Steve Haskin's Belmont Report: War Party Begins

Steve Haskin's Belmont Report: War Party Begins
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
War Emblem attempts first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
War Emblem is here. Sounds like a simple, mundane statement. But there was nothing simple or mundane about the grand entrance made Wednesday morning by Thoroughbred racing's version of "Black Beauty."

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner arrived at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, Long Island at 9 a.m., and was quickly led into his stall aboard the Tex Sutton van. After grabbing a few mouthfuls of hay and rubbing his head against the hay rack several times, he took a few looks out the window and settled down beautifully for his 40-minute ride down the Long Island Expressway to Belmont Park.

Tex Sutton vice president Paul Holthus said the colt was a perfect gentleman throughout the flight, and handled everything even more professionally than he did on the trip to Baltimore three weeks ago.

Also on the flight were Belmont Stakes participants Proud Citizen, Perfect Drift, and Wiseman's Ferry. A surprise passenger was Florida Derby and Blue Grass winner Harlan's Holiday, who was removed from trainer Kenny McPeek's barn on Tuesday, with the intent of sending the colt to Todd Pletcher at Belmont. One of Pletcher's assistants accompanied the horse.

War Emblem arrived to the usual throng of media that are attracted to a potential Triple Crown winner. Trainer Bob Baffert had arrived earlier on a commercial flight, and was there to escort his colt to John Terranova's barn, where former Baffert-trained horses Point Given and Officer resided during their New York visits.

As the mass assemblage of media followed War Emblem to his barn, traffic at the intersection by Terranova's barn came to a standstill, preventing Perfect Drift from getting to his barn (Barn 6). With an irate trainer Murray Johnson watching helplessly, Perfect Drift was led back past the van and around the opposite end of the barn.

Across the road, D. Wayne Lukas and assistant Mike Maker grazed Proud Citizen in relative quiet. As soon as the horses were bedded down in their stalls, it was a dash to the fourth floor dining room, where the post position draw was about to begin.

War Emblem drew post 10, much to the delight of Baffert, who wanted his colt to be near the outside. His main nemesis in the Derby and Preakness, Proud Citizen, appropriately drew right inside him in post 9. The front-running Wiseman's Ferry, whom Baffert said could be the "thorn in his side," drew post 3. Again, Baffert was happy, wanting the other speed horse on his inside.

With the exception of Magic Weisner, who is in Maryland and not due until Friday, and Artax Too, who is stabled at Aqueduct, all the Belmont horses will be on the track tomorrow for gallops, which should provide for a spirited morning.

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