Winner's road is twice traveled

Expected challenges again fail to develop

May 19, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Menacing Dennis played the hare this time. And local favorite Magic Weisner came flying through the stretch to provide a magical moment.

Except for those variations, the 127th Preakness was eerily similar to the Kentucky Derby, where War Emblem and Proud Citizen ran 1-2 all the way around the track in that order.

War Emblem was content to follow the pace run by the speedy, but outclassed, Menacing Dennis, who set the fractions for six furlongs before fading to finish 10th.

The pace was brisk, and War Emblem was right there, a neck away, refuting the idea that he would fold if pressured early. Of course, the real competition was behind him, so jockey Victor Espinoza sat patiently.

When the time arrived to pounce, War Emblem passed the front-runner easily at the three-eighths pole. At this point, Proud Citizen appeared the major threat, rallying outside to loom as a potential winner.

But with a little urging from Espinoza, War Emblem held off Proud Citizen's run and the race appeared over. Out of nowhere, Magic Weisner, renowned locally for his late charges, was gaining ground on the Derby winner.

"It was a shame he ran out of racetrack, because he was getting to War Emblem quickly," said Magic Weisner's rider, Richard Migliore.

If there were an excuse to be found in a relatively cleanly run race, it probably belonged to Proud Citizen.

Jockey Mike Smith said two factors were costly, starting with the break from the starting gate when "I got off a step to the side. Then, I was hoping Booklet would keep War Emblem inside, but instead he [Booklet] pushed me seven wide around the turn. It's hard to make up ground on this track when that happens."

USS Tinosa was steadied briefly and never really got into the race.

The other surprise was Booklet, a horse who relishes an immediate dash to the front. With a spot outside War Emblem, he could not gain the lead, and attempting to rate him didn't sit well with the horse, who fell back steadily and finished 12th.

That left War Emblem stalking the pace without a genuine contender to concern him.

It was a team effort by the War Emblem connections, starting with the post position draw when trainer Bob Baffert picked the No. 8 spot in a 13-horse field and virtually all the speed horses landed outside him. That left them needing to cover more ground than he had to early.

A threat from the early Preakness favorite, Medaglia d'Oro, never materialized. Sent by van from New York to arrive in the early morning yesterday, he laid in third early before tiring badly.

Derby favorite Harlan's Holiday launched a short-lived bid after also running wide for most of the race, but he could not sustain his rally.

In the end, War Emblem again dictated the terms, and no one could respond enough to override them. With Migliore up for the first time, Magic Weisner made a gallant try before the wire beat him to War Emblem.

3-for-3?

No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, but War Emblem is the eighth horse since then to have won the first two legs - the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. How the first seven fared in the Belmont:

Year Horse Belmont

1979 Spectacular Bid Third

1981 Pleasant Colony Third

1987 Alysheba Fourth

1989 Sunday Silence Second

1997 Silver Charm Second

1998 Real Quiet Second

1999 Charismatic Third

2002 War Emblem

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