Steve Haskin's Belmont Preview: All About War Emblem

Steve Haskin's Belmont Preview: All About War Emblem
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
War Emblem seeks Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.
Looking for a reason to believe War Emblem is worthy of Triple Crown fame, or simply just a reason to bet him on June 8? The following facts and figures and odds and ends might help.

-- First off, how about this for a mind-blowing statistic: Bob Baffert and Wayne Lukas have won 18 of the last 25 Triple Crown races. Not only that, but they finished second or third in 10 others during that period.

-- War Emblem's final quarter of :24 2/5 in the Kentucky Derby was the fastest in history by a frontrunner. The only other front-running Derby winner to break :25 in modern times was Swaps, who came home in :24 4/5. Old Rosebud closed in :24 3/5 in 1914. To show just how impressive War Emblem's closing time is, the average final quarter of the 13 other front-running Derby winners since War Admiral in 1937 is :25 4/5. Of the Triple Crown winners who wired their field in the Derby, War Admiral closed in :25 4/5, Count Fleet closed in :26 2/5, and Sir Barton trudged home in :28 on a heavy track. Seattle Slew, who pressed the early pace in the Derby, came home in :26 1/5.

-- On the opposite end of the spectrum, War Emblem's opening half of :46 (over a dull drying out track) in the Preakness was the fastest in the last 17 years. The last Preakness winner to run a faster opening half and win was Seattle Slew. Few horses have ever demonstrated such brilliant displays of speed both early and late in their races.

-- Before you think War Emblem hasn't accomplished enough in his career to earn a place on the elite roster of Triple Crown winners, remember that Sir Barton was a maiden going into the Kentucky Derby, hadn't run in eight months, and had never run farther than six furlongs. In his first four career starts, he was beaten a total of 56 1/2 lengths, and in his next start, he finished 16th, and was beaten so far, the number of lengths were never recorded. Omaha went into the Derby coming off eight defeats in his previous nine starts, with his only victory coming in an allowance race at Jamaica. Assault went into the Derby off four victories in 13 starts, and after the Belmont, he won only one of his next seven starts. Talk about getting no respect, he won the Derby and Preakness and wasn't even the favorite in the Belmont.

-- As for War Emblem's recuperative powers, we've all read how he savaged the outrider's pony after the Preakness. The morning after the race, when many horses would have been a bit knocked out, War Emblem was a wild horse, trying to bite anyone who came near him and trying to buck and jump in his stall. It took the groom and hotwalker several minutes to get the lip chain on him for his walk. What we found most telling was the brightness of his eye. This colt's eyes have so much life in them, even after a hard race like the Preakness. What's remarkable about his disposition is that he can shut off the "Hannibal Lector" routine at any time and will let you pet him and feed him mints. Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said the mints are his trick to putting on the lip chain. Even the crumpling of the paper will do the trick.

-- Before you think War Emblem's style of running puts him at a disadvantage, be aware that six of the last eight Triple Crown winners led at at every call in the Belmont Stakes, including the last four winners.

-- Where does War Emblem get his stamina? These are his four third-generation sires on his female side: Herbager – one of the great stamina influences in the world; Sky High II – the sire of Autobiography, who won the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup by 15 lengths over Key to the Mint and Riva Ridge; Con Brio II – a son of Ribot, one of the greatest stamina influences of all time; Brigadier Gerard – although mainly a mile and a quarter horse, he did win the mile and a half King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and also won his first 16 races.

-- Continuing the subject of pedigree, in War Emblem's first five generations on his sire side, there are five Belmont Stakes winners – Native Dancer, Nashua, Damascus, Count Fleet and Sword Dancer. He also has Buckpasser, the broodmare sire of the three Belmont winners (Touch Gold, Easy Goer, and Coastal); Raise a Native, the paternal grandsire of four Belmont winners (Affirmed, Easy Goer, Coastal; and Conquistador Cielo); Mr. Prospector, the sire of Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo and paternal grandsire of Belmont winners Thunder Gulch, Commendable, and Editor's Note.

-- This year marks "The Year of the Black Horse" on the Chinese calendar, and in more detail, "The Horse in the Army," or perhaps more fitting, the "War" horse. When War Emblem arrives at Belmont Park on June 5, it will be 65 years to the day since War Admiral's sweep of the Triple Crown.

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