War unavoidable

May 28, 2002 9:42 AM
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On Saturday, June 8, in the Belmont Stakes, War Emblem will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner since Sir Barton first captured racing’s most elusive prize in 1919, and the first since Affirmed in 1978.

Bob Baffert, who trains War Emblem for The Thoroughbred Corp., has agonized over two near-misses, with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998. Both captured the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness before running second in the Belmont.

A random poll of Southern California-based horsemen, where Baffert, War Emblem, and his jockey, Victor Espinoza, make their headquarters, leaves little doubt there will be a Triple Crown winner for the first time in 24 years.

The question asked: Will War Emblem win the Triple Crown? The responses:

JOCKEYS

OMAR BERRIO””He can win it easy. Espinoza knows the horse now and he fits him.

MATT GARCIA””It’s very possible. I watched the horse closely the last two times and he was impressive. I wish the best to Victor and Bob.

KEVIN KRIGGER””I think he can win it. Victor rides him perfect.

CHRIS McCARRON (winner of the first two legs of the 1986 Triple Crown aboard Alysheba, who finished a distant fourth in the Belmont)””It’s anybody’s guess. He’s definitely the best 3-year-old in the country, but it’s like with people; a guy might be extremely dominant in 10k runs, but put him in a marathon and he runs so far and then you can’t find him. So who knows? A mile and a half is a whole different ball game. It just remains to be seen.

MARTIN PEDROZA””I hope he does. It would be good for racing. I don’t see why he can’t get a mile and a half. I think he’ll lope along and then be long gone.

LAFFIT PINCAY JR.””Definitely, he can win it. He’s a good horse, he’s got speed, and it seems like he can carry his speed a long way. He’s got a very good chance.

JOSE VALDIVIA JR.””I think he’s live. He’s got speed and he showed tenacity in the Preakness. People said he was going to be a target, but the other horses weren’t fast enough. Hats off to him. Baffert’s done an amazing job and Espinoza couldn’t have ridden him any better the two times. I know there will be some fresh horses, Sunday Break and Perfect Drift, but I still think War Emblem is definitely the horse to beat.

PAT VALENZUELA (who was denied the 1989 Triple Crown aboard Sunday Silence when Easy Goer beat him in the Belmont)””I think it’s very possible. He showed that he’s a very good horse either on the lead or coming from off the pace. He was sitting second (in the Preakness) but he wasn’t very far back. I thought he ran a very big race considering they pressured him around the turn and everybody tried to make runs at him. Victor did a helluva job riding him. I think if he gets a moderate pace in the Belmont, he can withstand the late charges of any other horse. (On Valenzuela’s near-miss on Sunday Silence): The anticipation of winning the Triple Crown is always on yourmind, but you just have to ride your race. Unfortunately for Sunday Silence, Easy Goer ran a superb race the day of the Belmont.

LAFFIT DECLARES WAR ”” Champion jockey Pincay votes yes.

TRAINERS

BARRY ABRAMS ”” Yes, because he’s the best horse and he’s got the speed. This will probably be easier than the Derby and the Preakness. It doesn’t look like a mile and a half will be a problem for him. He doesn’t get tired. He just keeps going. In the Derby at a mile and a quarter, he galloped out stronger than everybody else.

PAUL AGUIRRE ”” I think he’ll win. The distance is his forte. I don’t think he’s a great horse, but he’s obviously a stayer. He’s got all the advantage because he’s going to be on the pace and he looks like a true stayer.

DAVID BERNSTEIN ”” I believe he’ll win if he runs (alluding to chips War Emblem reportedly has in both ankles and in one knee). That’s the only question. The horses that finished behind him sure can’t beat him. In my opinion, if he runs, he’ll win. He just looks like he’s the best horse and he’s the Real McCoy, plus he’s shown extreme versatility, being able to run hard early and still finish. The other horses had their best shot, so unless a new shooter drops in from somewhere . . . I think a mile and a half favors horses with speed and he acts like he’ll run all day.

JIM CASSIDY ”” I thought he would win the Preakness, so I’m not going to get off him now. The mile and a half shouldn’t bother him, but maybe one of the new shooters could present a problem.

VLADIMIR CERIN ”” If he comes out of the Preakness in as good as shape as he went into it, no one can touch him, because the Belmont is won by horses that run very close to the pace, and War Emblem was attacked by three different horses in the Preakness and had plenty left.

JIM CHAPMAN ”” He’ll win for sure, because he’s just been inducted into the Baffert barn. He’s got more than two (wins) in him. That’s good for 10 or 12.

CAESAR DOMINGUEZ ”” Yes, he can win the Triple Crown. He’s already beaten the best 3-year-olds in the country. Everybody thinks because he’s going a mile and a half, and it’s farther than they’ve ever run, it will be a disadvantage. But with his speed and the way he can rate, he can do it.

Plus, we are way overdue for a Triple Crown winner. I’m not concerned about a mile and a half, because he beat the same horses going a mile and a quarter and a mile and three-sixteenths.

MIKE MACHOWSKY ”” I’m rooting for him. He impressed me more in the Preakness than he did in the Derby. He’s going to be tough to beat at a mile and a half because he’s got that natural speed and they’re going to have to go with him to keep him honest, and if they don’t go with him, they’re not going to catch him.

CHRIS PAASCH ”” I think the odds are probably in my favor if I say no, because no horse has done it for 24 years. He didn’t do anything to diminish the hype about him. He was challenged a few times in the Preakness and ran good.

SANDY SHULMAN ”” If I had to pick one horse, I like the way Magic Weisner finished (in the Preakness), even though he was 45-1. Of course, we’re not going to get 45-1 in the Belmont, but he would be my selection.

ROGER STEIN ”” According to Baffert, he’s the best horse he’s ever had. According to me, he’s been galloping as strong at the end of the race (as is he is when he’s running). They can’t run with him early, and they can’t run with him late, so unless something happens to him, he will win the Triple Crown.

BILL SPAWR ”” I hope he does. Racing needs it. I think he can do it.

RICHIE SILVERSTEIN, agent for Martin Pedroza ”” I do think he’ll win it. I don’t think there’ll be as many rabbits like people are thinking. It will be a big field, but the farther you go, the more speed plays. This horse doesn/’t have to have the lead. He went: 46 1/5 in the Preakness and was a length off the lead. He didn’t like being off it (the lead), but I think at some point in the first five-eighths of a mile in the Belmont, he’ll get the lead and just keep on going.