By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Prince Ahmed Salman already had won the second two legs of the Triple Crown, so he went out and bought the first.
Few believed the purchase of War Emblem was such a deal even after he went wire-to-wire to win the Illinois Derby on April 6, but it looked like a steal Saturday when he duplicated the feat as a long shot in the 128th Kentucky Derby.
"I think it is much smarter to buy a horse four weeks before the Kentucky Derby than to raise them," said Salman, a member of the Saudi royal family. "Everybody buys the Derby, don't they? You spend money when you buy babies at Keeneland and then pay training fees.
"Tell me who is going to win next year, and I'll buy him."
War Emblem, the first wire-to-wire winner since Winning Colors in 1988, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2 minutes, 1.13 seconds to beat Proud Citizen by 4 lengths. Perfect Drift was 3/4 of a length farther back in third.
War Emblem, who went off at $20.50 to 1, paid $43, $22.80 and $13.60. He earned $1.175-million, including a $1-million bonus from the Illinois Derby for winning a Triple Crown race.
Trainer Bob Baffert won his third Derby and first since Real Quiet in 1998.
He brought heavily favored Point Given to Louisville last year only to see him finish fifth.
Baffert, who didn't have a Derby horse a month ago, had two Friday but just one Saturday morning after Danthebluegrassman was scratched.
"This was a big thing for me," Baffert said. "It was a real humbling experience after last year (when) I really walked in here like, "This is going to be a piece of cake, no problem.' But all these guys who've won this a bunch of times, you've really got to be lucky.
"When they hit the wire, I almost started crying because it brings back how hard you work for it."
Jockey Victor Espinoza won in his second Derby and his first time on War Emblem.
"I can't explain to the public. I can't express how I feel about this," he said.
Baffert summoned him to his barn early Saturday morning for what the jockey called "a first blind date," but had trouble getting there on time because of increased security at Churchill Downs. Espinoza expedited his trip by autographing a program for a guard.
War Emblem took the lead quickly, and all but Proud Citizen and Perfect Drift were willing to let him do it even though he set fractions that were the slowest since 1999.
"They were walking," Perfect Drift jockey Eddie Delahoussaye said. "I thought there would be five or six horses ahead of me, but no one was going to the leader. I was just being dragged along with the race. Go watch tapes, and you'll see I was strangling the horse, like we were going a mile and a half.
"But there was no pace. I just don't know where those other horses were. I thought there'd be some push up front, no?"
Proud Citizen was a head behind at the top of the stretch but faded as War Emblem drew off under hand-urging and Espinoza flashing his whip on his right side.
Delahoussaye had to check Perfect Drift at the 3/16th mark when he found no room behind War Emblem, but Delahoussaye said Espinoza had "too much horse" to file an objection.
Laffit Pincay Jr., aboard Medaglia d'Oro, appeared to want to make an early challenge for the lead but bobbled at the start and was bumped by Essence of Dubai. He was subsequently caught behind a wall of slower horses and unable to fight through.
"I knew at the half pole, his fractions were so easy, no one was going to catch me," Espinoza said.
Baffert said he was thinking the same.
"When they turned for home, I knew he had it," Baffert said. "I said, "If he runs like he did in the Illinois Derby, he's going to win it."
War Emblem, son of Our Emblem, is the first Illinois Derby participant to win the Kentucky Derby.
Salman campaigned Horse of the Year Point Given to victories in the Preakness and Belmont last year, but Monarchos caught him in his worse race ever and won the Kentucky Derby.
Salman's international syndicate jumped into the Derby hunt late.
Baffert helped arranged a private purchase of War Emblem from Russell Reineman and moved him from Chicago-based Frank Springer's barn April10.
Baffert, who called this the "shortest and greatest training job of my life," said he would share his percentage of the bonus with Springer.
"Those people were just so sweet about the whole thing," he said.
"Frank Springer told me every single thing about this horse."