One day after War Emblem's stunning front-running victory in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Bob Baffert said he believes the colt can win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
"He really could win it," Baffert told the media that assembled outside his fog-shrouded barn at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning. However, Baffert said he is not that concerned about winning the Triple Crown as much as he was winning the Derby.
"I got the Derby. The Triple Crown, hey, I'm not going to worry about it. If you get it, you get it."
Noting that victories by Point Given in the final two legs of the Triple Crown last year were special, Baffert said not winning the Derby left a void for him. "I left here with such an empty feeling last year," Baffert said of Point Given's loss in the Derby. "After winning the last two legs last year, there was still an empty feeling. I would have traded the Preakness and Belmont for (trainer) John Ward's Derby victory with Monarchos."
Baffert said he knew War Emblem was a "good horse" when the colt was purchased by The Thoroughbred Corp.'s Prince Ahmed bin Salmen for a reported $900,000, but "I really didn't know how good. Now I know he is a very good horse."
Baffert said he considered altering War Emblem's front-running style on the morning of the Derby, but then instructed Victor Espinoza to just let the horse run the way he normally does. Baffert said he told Espinoza not to use the whip on War Emblem because the colt dislikes it. He said the rider tapped the colt on the shoulder a couple of times just to get his attention in the stretch.
"They can talk all they want about the pace in the Derby, but there was no way anyone was going to beat him," Baffert said.
War Emblem is scheduled to ship to Pimlico on the Wednesday of Preakness week. Baffert also disclosed that Russell Reineman, from whom War Emblem was purchased following a win in the Illinois Derby, continues to own a small percentage interest in the Derby winner. "It was too bad he wasn't here yesterday," Baffert said in reference to the Derby.
Who War Emblem will face in the Preakness remains uncertain.
The Preakness will feature a matchup between War Emblem and Derby runner-up Proud Citizen, but few others from the Derby will go on to Baltimore.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Proud Citizen ran the way he always does and that it would have taken a faster pace to set it up for a run at War Emblem in the stretch.
"I thought we were in a great position entering the far turn, and I was hoping he (War Emblem) would come back, but he didn't," Lukas said.
Despite their long odds, Lukas said he was not surprised that War Emblem and Proud Citizen ran 1-2 in the Derby. "The horses that have been highly touted all spring have not been finishing (well in the prep races)," Lukas said. It came down to these horses having their best race in the Derby, not in the race before the Derby."
Owner Jack Wolf said plans for Harlan's Holiday, who finished seventh as the lukewarm favorite in the Derby, are uncertain. "We don't know if he's tired or if he just didn't like the track," Wolf said. "He will let us know how he acts in the next couple of days whether he was tired and we will make a decision at that time."
Trainer Steve Asmussen said Private Emblem will be given a break from competition, but that he will send Easyfromthegitgo to Baltimore for the Preakness.
Breaks are also in store for Came Home, the Santa Anita Derby winner who finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby, and Wild Horses, who bled slightly in his last-place Derby finish.
Assistant trainer Tom Albertrani said Essence of Dubai, ninth in the Kentucky Derby, will be pointed toward the Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Steve Margolis said fifth-place finisher Request for Parole would likely be pointed toward other 3-year-old races, such as the West Virginia Derby.