Ex-owner: No regrets on sale of War Emblem

Trainer didn't think horse was Derby-ready, he says

Horse Racing

May 17, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

In the Illinois Derby on April 6, War Emblem sped to a 6 1/4 -length victory over Repent, the second-largest margin in the 45-year history of the race.

He appeared to be a prime candidate for the Kentucky Derby off that performance, but his owner at the time, Russell L. Reineman, wasn't convinced.

"The Kentucky Derby is the greatest race in the world, as far as I'm concerned," he told the Louisville Courier-Journal after the smashing victory. "And if you don't belong, stay the hell away. You need to leave it to horses that belong there, so that's probably something we don't want to do."

Acting in concert with his trainer, Frank "Bobby" Springer, the goal was the Preakness, which would offer War Emblem more rest between races and a slightly shorter distance.

But in the middle of the next week, the Reineman-Springer team was no longer making the decision about going to Kentucky. Strapped for cash, Reineman sold 90 percent of the colt to the Thoroughbred Corp. of Saudi Arabian Prince Ahmed bin Salman for $990,000.

Three weeks later - under the tutelage of trainer Bob Baffert - War Emblem dominated the Kentucky Derby in front-running style, and his value as a racehorse and a stud skyrocketed.

Reached at the Chicago-area offices of his steel services business, Reineman, 84, said he has "no regrets and no animosity" and will not second-guess the decision. "I was going by what my trainer told me, and he thought he was better suited for the Preakness."

Reineman sold the colt because "demand is down" in his business. "The industry is doing bad. We've lost more money recently than we ever have."

That notable slump, a poor showing by his previous Kentucky Derby entry (Wise Times, ninth in 1986) and Springer's advice all weighed on the mind of War Emblem's previous owner.

"It's pretty hard to be an owner and tell your trainer what to do all the time," he said. "Bobby wanted to give the horse more time and a little shorter distance. I'm surprised by what he did in the Derby, but that's horse racing. A lot of my friends won money on him."

Reineman talked freely about his and Springer's role in War Emblem's life, but has been advised by his lawyers not to comment about the controversy regarding the $1 million bonus offered by Sportman's Park to the owner of the Illinois Derby winner if that horse went on to win a Triple Crown race.

He claims 50 percent of that bonus belongs to him, although he sold the horse before the Kentucky Derby.

After the sale, Reineman told the Chicago Sun-Times: "If I had agreed to sign over the possible bonus, I would have essentially been giving them a free chance to win the Kentucky Derby with my colt.

`They win and keep the bonus, and they have immediately covered the sale price. Am I supposed to be that bad a businessman?"

Springer is headquartered in Illinois most of the year and at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana during the winter. He said the health of the horse was another consideration.

"[Bone] chips, that's the reason we sold him," said the former trainer. "I just felt at some point in time he was going to have to have surgery. He has one in each ankle and one in one knee. We didn't feel there was a major danger of him breaking down, but those chips can cause some damage to his joints."

Reineman retains 10 percent ownership of War Emblem and said the possibility of future stud was "one of the reasons I wanted to keep the interest" in the horse.

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