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Sold Short

Russell Reineman insists he has no regrets about selling War Emblem, even though it appears the potential Triple Crown winner was ...


MIDWAY, Ky. — A charming small town ringed by regal thoroughbreds grazing on rolling hills of vibrant green attracted the nearby Lexington gentry to a "hamburger hootenanny" at a historic Southern inn on balmy Memorial Day.

The setting was everything steel-tempered city dweller Russell L. Reineman has grown to love about this patch of rural Kentucky, a slow-paced oasis where the racehorses he owns are brought up to speed.

Although Reineman, 84, was far from Midway last weekend, his name was prominent in the chit-chat and head-shaking of the horse breeders, business owners and University of Kentucky professors who occupied lawn chairs and ate burgers, red potato salad and baked beans in bourbon sauce while an acoustic band played from the porch of the 150-year-old Holly Hill Inn.

A shame, really, they declared. Like "Wrong Way" Roy Riegels, Reineman forever will be associated with a bonehead decision. Where was the gentleman's horse sense?

Following the advice of his longtime trainer, Frank "Bobby" Springer, Reineman sold War Emblem five days after the colt had won the Illinois Derby and 23 days before the Kentucky Derby. Reineman hadn't entered a horse in the Derby since 1986. War Emblem won it in stunning fashion.

The spunky 3-year-old also won the Preakness two weeks later and will race to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

"It's like a Greek play, one with elements of both tragedy and comedy," commented a Midway local over rhubarb cobbler and a glass of merlot.

Reineman may fail to see the humor, but he has a straightforward message for second-guessers, from bluegrass insiders to $2 bettors: "I'm over it."

As for tragedy, War Emblem doesn't even rate show money to Reineman. His wife died after falling from her beloved jumper during an early morning ride in 1973, one of his daughters died unexpectedly six years ago, and the husband of his other daughter died of cancer a few months later.

"I made a business decision and I stand by it as a good business decision," he said. "It's one of those things; you can go any way or think a lot of different things, but I'm not mad or disturbed."

That isn't necessarily the ranting of a stubborn old man who refuses to recognize the error of his ways. Reineman was shrewd enough to retain 10% ownership of War Emblem, who is a victory away from a Triple Crown bonus of $5 million and is expected to be worth millions more as a sire.

And 10% ownership of a potential Triple Crown winner is worth more than 100% ownership of a horse standing in his stall, which is where War Emblem would have been during the Kentucky Derby had Reineman not sold him.

After the horse had won the $500,000 Illinois Derby on April 6, Springer persuaded Reineman to skip the run for the roses, reasoning that the incorrigibly front-running War Emblem would get caught up in what is often a brutal early fast pace and fade.

They contemplated holding onto the colt and entering the Preakness to try to win the $1-million bonus that comes with coupling an Illinois Derby victory with one in a Triple Crown race. But Springer, exasperated with War Emblem's ornery temperament and seeming unwillingness to back off from the early pace and make a late run, believed the time was ripe for Reineman to cash in.

Meanwhile, Prince Ahmed Salman of Saudi Arabia and his trainer, Bob Baffert, watched the Illinois Derby on television several thousand miles apart and came to the same conclusion: Pursue the colt. The Prince plunked down $900,000, plus commissions, without even requesting a veterinary examination.

Baffert did call War Emblem's vet the day of the purchase and, coincidentally, Springer was in the office and came to the phone. The two trainers began a cordial relationship that continued through Derby day.

Reineman was satisfied, believing he had unloaded potential damaged goods for enough cash to keep him in horse racing at a time his Chicago steel business was hemorrhaging money.

If he made a mistake during negotiations, it was in not addressing in the contract how the $1-million bonus would be split. Attorneys representing Reineman and Prince Salman say they are close to settling the issue.

"We weren't going to run in the Derby anyway," Reineman said. "Whether that was the right decision, well, it can be debated. But that's what we decided and that made the Prince's offer a fair deal.

"If I go around losing millions over too many years, I'll eventually go broke. I hate to sell horses. There's nothing like watching one of your babies win. I'd keep every horse I breed if I could. But I can't absorb risks the way [wealthier] owners can."

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