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Prince bin Salman skips race to take care of business

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 9, 2002

ELMONT, N.Y. -- In the end, Saudi Prince Ahmed bin Salman was just as well off watching the Belmont Stakes on television in Riyadh. His absence, however, with War Emblem attempting to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, was odd.

Richard Mulhall, stable manager for the Thoroughbred Corp., said it was business. Too much of it apparently had piled up while the prince enjoyed the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

"He had some family obligations that he had to take care of," Mulhall said. "He couldn't get out of his commitments."

Mulhall said Salman was not trying to avoid a potentially negative fan reaction, nor was he worried for his safety.

"If it was a security thing, they would not have sent his brother (Prince Faisal)," Mulhall said.

Another reason for the owner's absence, according to multiple television and newspaper reports, could have been to avoid a potential serving of papers by lawyer Marvin Mitchelson, who represents the former wife of a member of the Saudi ruling family. Sheika Dena Al Fassi is seeking $133.5-million to satisfy a judgment against Sheik Mohammed Al Fassi, from whom she separated in 1993.

Al Fassi claims that members of the family, including Salman, control his finances, so Mitchelson was seeking part of his earnings if War Emblem won the $5-million Triple Crown bonus.

LIVE AND LEARN: Trainer Ken McPeek said his first Belmont experience, a ninth-place finish with Tampa Bay Derby-winner Pineaff in 1999, helped formulate his strategy with Sarava. "Pineaff ran so embarrassingly bad, I was so disappointed," he said. "When he came off the track he was just sweating, and I said the next time I ran a horse in this race I was going to come early and get him used to this track. Make sure he gets a good sharp breeze over it."

BURNED: Wiseman's Ferry provided early speed, leading for the first half-mile, but the Lone Star Derby winner fizzled to ninth by the time he completed the 11/2 miles. "It was a little long for him," trainer Niall O'Callaghan said. "The pace was a little too quick. He just didn't relax."

LONG SHOT: The best $2 payoff for a Belmont winner had been $132.10 for Sherluck in 1961, who spoiled the Triple Crown bid of Carry Back. Sarava paid $142.50.

INJURY: D. Wayne Lukas' Proud Citizen, who finished second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, suffered an undisclosed injury during the race but galloped off. Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian, said the injury initially did not appear serious.

AGAIN: The thoroughbred racing industry devotes massive resources to improving the image of a sport that many find inhumane. It's an indefensible position on days like Saturday, when for the second straight day a spill cost the life an animal in a race.

Imadeed, a 5-year-old mare, crumpled at the head of the stretch, spilling her rider, John Valazquez, who was involved in a fatal breakdown Friday. Pleasant County, a 4-year-old filly, then fell over Imadeed, suffering a fatal skull fracture. Imadeed tore a ligament and bowed another. She will be re-evaluated today.

Velazquez aggravated a strained knee from the Friday crash. Eibar Coa, who was riding Pleasant County, was not hurt.

MONEY, MONEY: The on-track handle of $12,045,114 bettered the mark of $10,581,093 set at last year's Belmont. The total handle of $95,423,752 easily surpassed the 1999 total of $74,133,188.

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