Not this time
Sarava wins Belmont Stakes; War Emblem eighthPosted: Saturday June 08, 2002 6:37 PM
Updated: Saturday June 08, 2002 9:54 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- War Emblem's remarkable run for a Triple Crown ended shockingly Saturday, along with his trainer's hope to avenge two close calls, when the colt was badly beaten by 70-1 shot Sarava in the Belmont Stakes.
When the gates sprang open, War Emblem nearly fell to his knees, and it was clear there would be no champion this year.
War Emblem recovered nicely to move into contention entering the first turn, but he was boxed in along the rail by Sunday Break, Wiseman's Ferry and Medaglia d'Oro. At the urging of jockey Victor Espinoza, War Emblem seized the lead just before the final turn but couldn't maintain the pace.
As the field turned into the long home stretch of the grueling 1 1/2-mile Belmont, Sarava and Medaglia d'Oro regained control. The two battled down the stretch, but it was Sarava who won by a half-length to become the longest shot to win the Belmont.
Espinoza said there wasn't much he could do after War Emblem stumbled. The horse tired after making up the ground.
"I was using the horse early," Espinoza said. "It cost me everything at the start."
Trained by Ken McPeek, Sarava returned a record $142.50 for a $2 bet. The previous record was $132.10 by Sherluck in 1931.
Bob Baffert is now a loser in three Triple Crown tries, with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998 also coming up short in the Belmont after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
When War Emblem took his brief lead, the crowd roared in anticipation of a Triple Crown champion after a 24-year wait. But the ornery colt had no fight left, and faded to eighth, eased past the finish line by Espinoza.
War Emblem's defeat leaves racing still waiting for its first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, a span that matches the longest gap between Triple Crown champions. After Citation's success in 1948, Secretariat was the next to sweep in 1973.
And, with the death last month of Seattle Slew, who won the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1977, the sport remains without a living Triple Crown champion.
War Emblem, a black beauty of a racehorse, became the 16th Derby-Preakness winner to fail in the Belmont as the elite Triple Crown club stayed at 11.
The loss was an agonizing one for Baffert, racing's golden-boy trainer who admitted to a case of nerves as he prepared War Emblem for the Belmont.
"I said the only thing that could beat us was a bad break," Baffert said. "Victor did the best he could. If I had a walkie-talkie I would have told him to pull up right there. I didn't want him running a mile and a half like that. It was gut-wrenching to have to watch the whole race."
While Baffert was subdued, McPeek was elated. McPeek, who saw his Harlan's Holiday lose the Derby as the favorite, was in the winner's circle with a most unlikely 3-year-old in Sarava.
Sarava, ridden by Edgar Prado, earned a spot in the Belmont off his victory in the Sir Barton Stakes on Preakness day three weeks ago. Owned by New Phoenix Stable and Susan Roy, Sarava won in a slow time of 2:29.71, more than five seconds off Secretariat's world record.
Just a few days ago, McPeek was fired as trainer of Harlan's Holiday by owner Jack Wolf.
"I believe that when something bad happens to you, something equally good is about to happen to you," McPeek said. "I'll take it any way I can get it. And I got it."
Sarava, the second longest shot in the 11-horse field, earned $600,000 for the win, his third in nine career starts.
Medaglia d'Oro, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, had his best race in the Triple Crown series after finishing fourth in the Derby and eighth in the Preakness.
He finished 91/2 lengths ahead of Sunday Break, followed under the wire by Magic Weisner, Proud Citizen, Essence of Dubai, Like A Hero, War Emblem, Wiseman's Ferry, Perfect Drift and Artax Too.
Proud Citizen, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, was pulled up by rider Mike Smith at the end of the stretch and was taken away in a van.
Proud Citizen, second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, had swelling in his right front ankle, said Dr. Larry Bramlage, a consulting veterinarian. Bramlage said the injury did not appear serious.
McPeek is the third trainer to handle Sarava, who raced in England before coming to the United States last November.
Sarava broke fifth from the gate, and after a mile moved into fourth, behind Medaglia d'O'ro, War Emblem and Proud Citizen. But entering the long stretch, he took command before Medaglia d'Oro fought him to the wire.
"We knew we could turn it around," Prado said. "The horse was very sharp. He was very calm. We were in good position all the way around. When I called on him, he responded well. It was like a dream come true."
For Baffert, a Triple try fell into his lap when Saudi Prince Ahmed bin Salman paid $900,000 for War Emblem on April 11 and sent the son of Our Emblem to the trainer's barn at Churchill Downs.
Dismissed at odds of 20-1 on Derby day, War Emblem went wire-to-wire for a four-length victory. Two weeks later, after taking his first airplane ride, he won the Preakness by three-quarters of a length and became the 27th horse to move to the brink of the Triple Crown.
But it wasn't to be, and Baffert, ever the kidder, still tried to find humor in defeat.
"Next time I win the Derby," he said. "I'm heading home."