|Daily Racing Form|
|Thursday, August 1
|Marriage and a million dollar race on tap for Baffert|
By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com
Death and mourning, intermingled with love and marriage. Anguish, depression, indecision. In the race, out, back in again. It can be lonely at the top, but rarely this crazy.
"It's a private plane," Baffert said. "It's going to have cans saying 'Just married' hanging from the tail."
The happy pair won't be alone. Among a motley entourage will be wedding guests, along with Richard Mulhall, racing manager of The Thoroughbred Corp., and jockeys Victor Espinoza and Laffit Pincay. They'll be bound for Monmouth Park along the Jersey Shore, where Baffert's War Emblem will race Sunday for the first time since failing to win the Triple Crown on June 8 in the Belmont Stakes. Even if he wins the 1 1/8-mile Haskell Invitational easily, as expected, victory will be tinged with sadness.
The unexpected death of War Emblem's owner, Prince Ahmed bin Salman, at 43 on July 22 in Saudi Arabia jolted Baffert and Mulhall. When doom comes from out of the blue, even the most driven people have to stop.
"When the Prince died, I couldn't think about doing anything at the time," Baffert said Wednesday on a conference call. "It took us a while. But I was working the horse, and he was unbelievable. You keep waiting for a race, and maybe he gets hurt while you're just waiting. So we decided to take a shot."
Instead of bringing back their star against older horses Aug. 25 in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, Mulhall and Baffert reverted to their original plan, the Haskell, for 3-year-olds. It helped that the race was falling apart, and the defection of the brilliant Came Home made the $1-million Haskell irresistible. As Mulhall said last week, "That's a lot of money to leave on the table." Prince Faisal, whom his family appointed to head The Thoroughbred Corp., gave the go-ahead, so it was on to Jersey.
Baffert found a kindred spirit in Prince Ahmed. "He was a lot of laughs," Baffert said. "His attitude was to enjoy life. He lived life to the fullest. If I were a prince, I'd be just like him.
"I'd just talked to him, and we'd become personal friends. Not only did I lose a great client, but I lost a great friend ... It was just so shocking, He was so young. The last few weeks have been most difficult. It's still going to be kind of empty without him being around or to talk to."
Unless War Emblem stumbles and nearly goes down at the start, as he did in the Belmont, the Haskell's outcome should lift the spirits of Baffert and Mulhall. The light-bodied black colt worked 6 furlongs in a zippy 1:11 1/5 Monday at Del Mar, and Monmouth's speed-favoring surface suits his front-running style. Even if he faces Belmont runner-up Medaglia d'Oro, who's also entered Sunday in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, War Emblem will be heavily favored.
"After the Belmont, we just backed off on him," Baffert said. "I was worried about him because he took a bad stumble, and sometimes they can strain an ankle when they do that. One of his ankles flared up a little bit, but it was gone in about three days. I'm just happy he came back in one piece.
"He's such a tough horse, and he's doing great. I hope the horse is going to win, he's sitting on a good race. He's the big horse in the game right now, and I have to be careful how we manage him." Baffert had no intentions of starting his second marriage under such unusual conditions, but duty calls, and Ms. Moss knows the drill. Baffert said they originally chose the wedding date for this weekend because at the time he didn't have a top-class 3-year-old who was likely to fit in the Haskell. That was before Salman bought War Emblem three weeks before the Kentucky Derby.
"Jill loves the horses and the racing," Baffert said. "She'll probably be more nervous about War Emblem than about her wedding. She knows this is part of being a trainer's wife. After the race, we'll fly up to Saratoga that night. We'll honeymoon at the Saratoga [yearling] sales."
You could think of more romantic ways to spend a honeymoon at the Spa, but there aren't many better places to mix business with pleasure.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
War Emblem works quickly for a rejuvenated Haskell