War Emblem's owner skips Belmont Stakes
NEW YORK -- The Saudi Arabian prince who paid $900,000 for War Emblem nearly two months ago wasn't at the Belmont Stakes. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all.
War Emblem stumbled coming out of the gate and nearly fell Saturday, then saw his bid to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner end as the colt finished eighth.
Prince Ahmed bin Salman got the bad news in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, where he was tending to "family obligations.''
"I'm disappointed the prince wasn't here,'' trainer Bob Baffert said after the race.
Richard Mulhall, racing manager for The Thoroughbred Corp., the prince's racing outfit, told reporters in the press box that he didn't know the specifics of the prince's obligations.
Before the race, Mulhall said a nervous Ahmed had called him five times. The prince listened to the race call on a cell phone.
There were concerns about having a prominent Saudi in New York after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Several Saudi nationals were identified among the terrorists. But Mulhall said security played no part in the absence.
"If it was a security thing, he wouldn't have his brother here,'' Mulhall said.
Ahmed sent his younger brother, Faisal, in his place. Faisal didn't attend War Emblem's Kentucky Derby or Preakness victories, and isn't part of his brother's thoroughbred ownership group.
Spokesmen for the FBI and the State Department said they had no information that any warning or advisory was given to Ahmed.
Mulhall said the prince had "a little more security'' put into place in recent weeks.
"We talked a little bit about it, but there was no real concern,'' he said. "I think there's a lot more people that like him than dislike him.''
Ahmed initially said he would attend.
"He kept trying to come,'' Mulhall said. "We had all the hotel rooms and everything was all set for him to be here, and then he just couldn't make it.''
Ahmed was a high-profile presence in the winner's circle after War Emblem's Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories. The prince led the colt into the winner's circle each time and kissed jockey Victor Espinoza and hugged Baffert.
It's not the first time the prince didn't attend a Triple Crown race involving one of his horses. He was absent when Point Given won last year's Preakness.
Ahmed runs a newspaper publishing empire based in Riyadh and London. He returned to Riyadh after the May 18 Preakness and hasn't been in the United States since.
"He took too much time with the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby, which he didn't expect to do, and he just couldn't get out of this,'' Mulhall said.
The prince might have been ensnared in legal matters had he showed up.
Famed palimony lawyer Marvin Mitchelson said he would try and collect a portion of War Emblem's winnings to satisfy a $216 million judgment against a Saudi Arabian sheik.
Saudi King Fahd and his brother Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz have already been named in a federal lawsuit filed by Sheika Dena Al Fassi, who separated from Sheik Mohammed Al Fassi in 1993 and was awarded an $81.5 million piece of his multibillion-dollar fortune.
Mitchelson, who represents the sheika, said Mohammed Al Fassi is now claiming that members of the Saudi Arabian royal family, including Ahmed, have assumed control of his money and assets.
"It's a little far out,'' Mulhall said.
NYRA's security plan for Saturday included rooftop snipers and undercover officers working amid 103,222 fans -- the largest crowd to watch thoroughbred racing in New York.