`Crown' prince eager for coronation

War Emblem owner wants third jewel `really bad'

May 19, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

How badly does Prince Ahmed bin Salman, the owner of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem, want the Triple Crown?

"As badly as I want my son and daughter to get married," said Prince Ahmed, member of the Saudi Arabian ruling family. "Really bad. ... To win the Triple Crown would knock me out."

Prince Ahmed - like the trainer who works for him, Bob Baffert - can practically taste a Triple Crown, partly because of disappointments that have come before.

Prince Ahmed, 43, and Baffert were close last year with Point Given, the 2001 Horse of the Year. The horse won the 126th Preakness and Belmont Stakes after coming up short in the Kentucky Derby as a heavy favorite.

Last year, the owner - principal partner in The Thoroughbred Corporation - did not come to Baltimore for the Preakness. This time around, not only did the prince come, but he also never bothered heading home after the Derby on May 4.

"Before I won the Kentucky Derby, I was very relaxed and when I won I was very happy, then started getting nervous," he said. "I hate the horse business until the race, and then I love it afterward."

A stout man, Prince Ahmed said the anxiety would probably cause him to lose 15 pounds between now and the running of the Belmont on June 8.

The prince's family has had a long history in horse racing. His brother, the late Fahd Salman, was an international figure in the sport who had many stakes winners, including Epsom Derby winner Generous.

Prince Ahmed's company had originally raced as Universal Stable during the 1980s before reorganizing as The Thoroughbred Corp. in 1994.

He bought War Emblem for $990,000 after the Illinois Derby on April 6 and let Baffert train the horse.

Prince Ahmed slightly bristles at the idea of himself as a prince who does nothing but buy winners of Triple Crown races.

"People just say that `he bought a Derby,' " he said. "I bred Point Given. ... God only knows what I've bred."

Yet, his joys seemed to outweigh any frustrations yesterday, as he slapped fives with bystanders after the race.

And the corporation stands to earn a $5 million bonus if War Emblem wins the Belmont and becomes the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Baffert said this was the reason thoroughbred owners get involved in horse racing, then looked to his client for affirmation.

"Are you having fun?" he asked.

"Yeah," the prince said, "and I'm losing weight, too."

War Emblem at a glance

Foaled: Feb. 20, 1999

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: The Thoroughbred Corp.

Career statistics:

Year S 1 2 3 Earnings

2002 6 4 0 0 $2,855,000

2001 3 2 0 0 $36,000

Tot. 9 6 0 0 $2,891,000

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