Baffert: 'There's nobody faster than him'
by The Associated Press
BALTIMORE -- Twice before, horses trained by Bob Baffert just missed winning the Triple Crown. This time, he thinks War Emblem has what it takes to get the job done.
"This guy keeps throwing it into gears and goes like the tank's never empty," Baffert said of his third Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner. "There's nobody faster than him. He just goes."
Baffert sat on a white fence near the Pimlico stakes barn Sunday morning, discussing War Emblem's chances of winning the Belmont Stakes on June 8 and becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
"There's not a 3-year-old out there that can beat him," Baffert said, less than 14 hours after War Emblem's three-quarter length win over Magic Weisner in the Preakness.
Is that a guarantee?
"I don't want to jinx myself, but I'd start getting my room reservations and everything," he said.
And what about the Belmont distance -- at 1½ miles the longest race 3-year-olds will run?
"Piece of cake," Baffert said.
So this is the horse, right?
"You all have been waiting for that super horse," he said, "You've got him."
The guy with the white hair, dark shades and wisecracks is well-versed in Triple tries, with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998. Both won the Derby and Preakness and were agonizingly close to winning the Belmont -- Silver Charm was beaten three-quarters of a length by Touch Gold and Real Quiet a nose by Victory Gallop.
But unlike those two, who were pooped after their Preakness wins, War Emblem is still full of energy. And because he loves to run on or near the lead, there's little chance for a troubled trip.
"As long as I keep him healthy and at this level, then I'll probably feel stronger about this Triple Crown then I've ever felt about the other two," Baffert said. "The only reason it will be tough is if between now and then he were to go backward on me."
Trainer Nick Zito, who will not have a Belmont runner, is rooting for a Triple Crown and says War Emblem has everything in his favor. However, there's no such thing as a sure shot.
"He shouldn't get beat, but that's what happens," Zito said. "Why did Real Quiet look like he was home free? Why did Silver Charm get beat? If all goes well, and he has a good day, the race (Belmont) will be easier than this race was. But let's see what happens."
There aren't many challengers left for War Emblem, though trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Proud Citizen will try again in the Belmont. Second in the Derby and third on Saturday, Proud Citizen may be the only other Preakness runner to move on to the Belmont.
"I know you all want to see a Triple Crown," Lukas said, "but I'm going to try and spoil your dream."
Nancy Alberts, who owns and trains Magic Weisner, said she's considering the Belmont. "I will wait and see how Magic is in three or four days," she said.
Essence of Dubai, Perfect Drift and Sunday Break are among those listed as possible Belmont runners. Others include Azillion, One Tuff Fox, Puzzlement and Sarava, Tales Of The Crypt, Tracemark and Wiseman's Ferry.
Perfect Drift was third in the Derby and Essence of Dubai, owned by Godolphin Racing, was ninth. Puzzlement and Sunday Break are set to run in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Baffert has said often there's no better feeling than winning the Derby, though he's not sure what will happen if War Emblem takes the Belmont and becomes racing's 12th Triple Crown winner.
"I won't know until that happens," he said. "The Derby is the most exciting of all the races. The Triple Crown is more like being a part of history. We've all been waiting ... You read about there will never be a Triple Crown winner."
Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown winner, died on May 7 and left the sport without a living Triple Crown winner for the first time since 1919 when Sir Barton swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Baffert wonders whether it's simply time for another Triple Crown winner.
"Now that there's no Triple Crown winners alive -- maybe that's what it took," he said. "I don't know if that had anything to do with it. I'm just glad I get another shot at it."
So is Mickey Taylor, who owned Seattle Slew. And Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed.
"For racing, it would be nice to have another Triple Crown winner, especially with Slew passing away," Taylor said. "It would be sweet for the thoroughbred industry."
Cauthen said: "War Emblem looks like the class horse of this group so far. I don't see any reason why he won't have a great shot to do it."
War Emblem shipped back to Churchill Downs in Louisville on Sunday, while Baffert headed home to California. War Emblem, bought for $900,000 by Saudi Prince Ahmed bin Salman on April 11 and sent to Baffert, is not expected to arrive in New York until June 5.