Preakness morning was downright miserable, with nearly an inch of rain falling, accompanied by dropping temperatures and a brisk, bone-chilling wind. It was predicted the front would pass through by about 10 a.m. Track superintendent John Passero guaranteed a fast track, and he would deliver.
When the state veterinarian came by the barn for a mandatory inspection of War Emblem's legs, Baffert couldn't help but devise a humorous, but devious scenario. "Let's let him go into the stall on his own," he said. "We'll time it and see how long he lasts. In about five seconds, we'll be calling, 'Medic!' You don't need security for that s.o.b. He'll run you right out of there himself. He doesn't mean to, but he's always so full of himself."
When the colt walked the shed that morning, however, Baffert thought he acted a little dull, so he told assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes to grab the shank and "make him do something."
"Jimmy walked him around," Jenner said, "then put him back in his stall and got ready to put the blanket on him. Suddenly, you hear, 'wham,' 'crash,' 'pow,' and all this dust and straw comes flying out of the stall, and Jimmy's yelling, 'That son of a bitch.' "
That was the War Emblem who walked into battle before more than 100,000 screaming fans who made him the 5-2 favorite. Next at 3-1 was Medaglia d'Oro, who didn't arrive at Pimlico until 4:15 the morning of the race, vanning four hours from Belmont Park. Harlan's Holiday was 5-1, with Proud Citizen 7-1. The local hopes were riding on 45-1 shot Magic Weisner, a Maryland-bred who had won six of his last eight starts for small-time Laurel trainer Nancy Alberts, who also repairs blankets on the side.
At the start, Proud Citizen, breaking from post 12, veered sharply to his right. Just inside him, Menacing Dennis went charging to the lead, with War Emblem pulling his way into second. Medaglia d'Oro and Booklet were right behind, followed closely by U S S Tinosa, who was saving ground inside. Mike Smith got Proud Citizen in gear on the far outside, but had to go five-wide into the clubhouse turn. Table Limit, whom Baffert felt would be used as a rabbit despite contradictory comments by Lukas, never showed speed and wound up dropping back quickly after having to steady badly going into the first turn.
As they headed into that turn, Victor Espinoza had a firm hold of War Emblem, who wanted to mix it up. Espinoza had to draw a fine line between fighting the horse and giving him enough of his head to keep him from blowing up. With a sharp opening quarter in :22.87, Menacing Dennis was winging it on the lead, as War Emblem still was kept under restraint by Espinoza. Proud Citizen moved up on the outside and was in good striking position, with U S S Tinosa, Medaglia d'Oro, and Booklet still in the thick of things. All of Ward's talk meant little, as Booklet failed to threaten for the lead and never did pay a visit to War Emblem, as promised.
Nothing much changed through a stiff half-mile in :46.10. Espinoza kept looking back over both shoulders to see which, if any, missiles were being launched behind him. The pace was still strong as they passed the three-quarters in 1:10.60. Espinoza could feel the power building under him. He could feel the pressure in his hands getting stronger. The stealth bomber was ready for takeoff. He knew all he had to do was drop down a bit in the saddle, loosen his grip ever so slightly, and he would be airborne in a matter of seconds. Radar or not, no missiles were going to hit this jet today.
Espinoza turned the controls over to War Emblem at the three-eighths pole, and the result sent a wave of electricity rippling through the huge crowd. Suddenly, War Emblem shot to a clear lead. It was amazing to see Smith pumping away on Proud Citizen, while Espinoza's hands remained perfectly still. He took a few more peeks over both shoulders and kicked for home, waving his stick at War Emblem, who had now opened a two-length lead. Smith kept hitting Proud Citizen with a series of right-handed whips, and he began closing in on War Emblem inside the eighth pole. A drag-out battle between the one-two finishers of the Derby was about to begin...or was it? Espinoza went to a right-hand whip of his own, and War Emblem, as he's done in his last two starts, found another gear and surged forward.
Meanwhile, Magic Weisner had saved ground most of the way, stuck behind Medaglia d'Oro and U S S Tinosa. Jockey Richard Migliore finally was able to ease him out for clear sailing turning for home. The son of Ameri Valay began picking off horses, passing Harlan's Holiday and moving into third inside the eighth pole.
War Emblem, despite right-handed whipping, was running a perfectly straight course and showing no signs of tiring. Magic Weisner, still on his left lead, found another gear of his own and blew past Proud Citizen with 70 yards to go. But it was too little too late to catch War Emblem, who still seemed to have a lot left. At the wire, it was War Emblem by three-quarters of a length, with Magic Weisner another three-quarters of a length ahead of Proud Citizen. It was another 11 1/2 lengths back to Harlan's Holiday, with Easyfromthegitgo rallying late to miss fourth by a neck after being steered sharply to the inside. Straight Gin, among the Preakness also-rans, pulled up badly and was vanned off the track. He was diagnosed with a bowed tendon that will end his racing career. The final time, on a drying out track, was 1:56.36, nearly three seconds slower than the Preakness record set by Louis Quatorze in 1996.
How tired was War Emblem after the race? When NBC's Donna Brothers, on Baffert's pony Cisco, went to interview Espinoza, she couldn't believe what she saw. "He was literally savaging the outrider's pony," she said. "I've ridden 12,000 races and I've never had a horse pull up after a race savaging the outrider's pony. When I heard the outrider yelling, 'Hey, hey, hey!' I looked over and saw that War Emblem had a hold of the pony's withers with his teeth and wouldn't let go. That horse should have been tired, but all the race did was make him mad. When he finally let go and we came up alongside him, Cisco and I both knew we were about to get kicked. You just sense it. Cisco knows the horse, and when War Emblem gave us that look, it was like, 'I've seen that look before. OK, we're moving on.' "
Baffert will now try to sweep the Triple Crown, after barely missing with Silver Charm and Real Quiet. Baffert and Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp. have won four straight Triple Crown races. Real Quiet's owner, Mike Pegram, who missed his date with immortality by a nose, is well aware what Salman and Mulhall are going through. "It's great to be king, isn't it?" he said to Mulhall after the race. Continued...