Simply ‘magic’ that War Emblem wasn’t injured

June 18, 2002 11:52 AM
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War Emblem is enjoying a deserved break at Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita headquarters, where he is about to prepare for the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 4, and/or the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 25.

But truth be known, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is lucky to be in one piece after a woeful start in the Belmont Stakes that cost him any chance he had to win the Triple Crown.

War Emblem stumbled badly from his No. 10 post position just after the gates opened, nearly went to his knees, and would have fallen and spilled his rider, Victor Espinoza, if the colt hadn’t veered to his right.

War Emblem leaned on Magic Weisner, who was breaking from the No. 11 stall. The Preakness runner-up inadvertently became a wall that prevented War Emblem from falling, in the opinion of Dr. Ray Baran, D.M.V.

Baran is a veterinarian at Southern California’s major thoroughbred tracks. He is at the starting gate during each race and it’s his call to scratch a horse during the post parade if he deems it necessary.

"If Magic Weisner wasn’t to the right of him to hold him up, War Emblem would have been down and Espinoza would have been off," said Baran, who has been on the job since 1986, first with quarter horses, and with thoroughbreds since 1989. "That’s the only thing that kept him up. He really was flailing around. He could have hurt himself. He’s got chips (in his knees and in an ankle), and even if didn’t have chips, he could have injured himself."

Baran says horses react to accidents as humans do.

"Their adrenaline starts pumping and can be active as long as 30 minutes," Baran said. "It can be similar whether it’s a horse or a human athlete. Remember the Zola Budd incident (when her foot was stepped on and she fell) in the 1984 Olympics? It takes something out of them to try and come back and get into the race. I wouldn’t say it’s a shock, but it’s a syndrome that does affect the circulatory system, I think.

"I’m not talking only about horses," Baran continued. "When you just miss having a car accident and someone almost hits you, you know how that feels. Your heart’s in your mouth and your stomach is jumping. It’s the same with a horse. It’s an unexpected occurrence."

Baran receives considerable support for his theory in the June 17 edition of Sports Illustrated, which has a photograph showing War Emblem stumbling and leaning into Magic Weisner.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. That one is.

THE HOMESTRETCH: A major question to be answered on the unexpected announcement last Saturday by Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron that he will retire on Sunday at age 47 is: Who will fill the stakes void for long-time clients such as Ron McAnally, Paco Gonzalez and Richard Mandella?

McCarron, whose mounts have earned more than $264 million, an all-time record, is the nation’s sixth-leading rider with more than 7,100 career victories.

"I’m surprised he retired so abruptly," said Richie Silverstein, agent for Martin Pedroza and Iggy Puglisi. "(Bill) Shoemaker had a retirement tour that gave fans across the country a chance to say good-bye, and Chris, having won so many big stakes races in his career, I wish he had arranged for a farewell tour.

"As for how it will impact the local jockey colony, we have young riders like (Jason) Lumpkins and (Omar) Figueroa coming from the Bay Area to ride at Del Mar, but it won’t have that much effect, because Chris pretty much had been picking and choosing (his mounts) for almost a decade.

"It makes two major differences, one in stakes races for trainers like Gonzalez, Mandella and McAnally, because McCarron was a fixture for them. His retirement will open up stakes business there, plus Scotty McClellan (McCarron’s agent of 21 years) now only has Alex Solis.

Maybe Scotty will enjoy working for one rider for a while, but you know he’s going to get offers. I don’t think a major rider from another circuit would try to fill the void unless he signed on with Scotty. A guy like (Jose) Santos or (Jorge) Chavez could hook up with Scotty and get into barns like McAnally’s and Mandella’s. But nobody’s just going to show up," Silverstein said.

On what Silverstein thinks will result from the June 26 California Horse Racing Board meeting to decide whether Fairplex Park’s Sept. 13-29 dates will be run at Santa Anita this year: "I’ve said from the beginning that to stop racing at Pomona would be a shame. I know some people think more revenue would be generated (by racing at Santa Anita), but that’s only in the short run. In the long run, it will really hurt Oak Tree and it will destroy the Hollywood Park winter meet.

"It might be good the first year or two, but in the long run, it’s really going to hurt racing and I think everybody’s going to see that at the last minute," he said. "The closer the deadline gets, the more absurd it becomes not to stay at Fairplex. I’m praying and hoping that everybody comes to their senses. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it."

Pedroza has won more races at Fairplex Park than any jockey in the track’s 63-year history.

GOLDEN PICKS

CAT ON GUARD ”” Faded to fourth but never stopped trying when making debut going 11/16 miles. Son of Dr. Caton won’t be a maiden long at $40,000 level.

CAVEOLIN ”” Broke maiden against winners on turf for new face to Southern California, John Glenney. Son of Triple Crown champ Affirmed can continue to win on grass, the longer the distance the better.

TIMELY ACTION ”” This son of Gilded Time won so Âí­easily, Alex Solis was looking over his shoulder leaving the backstretch. Two-for-two this year by a combined nine lengths and ready for tougher foes for Richard Mandella.