He won the Kentucky Derby convincingly but War Emblem, the horse everyone likes to knock, may not even be favored in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.
The son of Our Emblem is owned by a Saudi prince (not too popular, of late) and is trained by Bob Baffert, who, for whatever reason, is the guy everyone loves to hate. Winning sort of does that to your competitors. Remember the zingers aimed at trainer Wayne Lukas just a few years ago?
Adding to the criticism was the fact that Baffert bought War Emblem less than a month prior to Kentucky Derby for his patron, The Thoroughbred Corporation.
And War Emblem’s running style generates criticism. He likes to control the pace, hopefully without early pressure, so that he can have plenty left in the tank when the field turns for home. That’s what he did in the Kentucky Derby and that is what he’ll try to do in the Preakness.
Question for Saturday is whether War Emblem will be permitted to get an easy early lead, especially with the likes of John Oxley’s Booklet, the speedster who won four consecutive stakes on the lead.
Accepting the challenge with War Emblem and Booklet are Medaglia D’Oro from the highly-feared Bobby Frankel Stable; Proud Citizen, the Derby runnerup from the Lukas contingent; Harlan’s Holiday, who set a record as the 6-1 Derby favorite, and non-Derby starters, Crimson Hero, Easyfromthegitgo, Equality, Magic Weisner, Menacing Dennis, Straight Gin and U S S Tinosa.
Because of the emphasis made in the post-Derby analyses of the troubled trip experienced by Medaglia D’Oro, early indications were that he would be a lukewarm early-line favorite for the Preakness. But, there also will be strong support for the Derby one-two finishers, as well as for Harlan’s Holiday who failed to fire at Churchill Downs.
From an industry point-of-view, a War Emblem victory would be the best finish since it would keep alive the hopes of another Triple Crown winner. No horse has been able to accomplish the feat since Affirmed in 1978.
A potential Triple Crown champion might even reduce the numbers of bricks being thrown at Baffert. But with his ego, it probably won’t matter to him.