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BELMONT

Workout Traffic Doesn't Seem to Bother War Emblem

June 05, 2002|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Before the 8 a.m. workout, under a hot Kentucky sun that had already shot the temperature up near the 80-degree mark, trainer Bob Baffert was sweating more than War Emblem.

When Jim Barnes, Baffert's assistant, and his wife Dana came on the track at Churchill Downs on Tuesday, the silver-haired trainer was stationed in his usual spot, high in the grandstand with a two-way radio in one hand and a stopwatch in the other. Jim Barnes, aboard Cisco, a butterscotch-colored stable pony, was escorting exercise rider Dana Barnes and War Emblem to the starting point for a five-furlong workout.

Dozens of other horses were on the track. Baffert fretted.

"This place was a ghost town for days," he said. "Now everybody here is training his horse."

War Emblem didn't seem to mind. The long-striding ink-black colt, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and eligible to become racing's first Triple Crown winner in 24 years when he runs in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, finished the drill in 1:01.

"Perfect," Baffert said to Dana Barnes on the two-way, then turning to reporters he added:

"He wanted to get it on. He was going to go in :59 if we had let him. He's ready. He's like a cruise missile. Stealth. You can't hear him when he glides over the track."

The fractional splits for the workout were :121/5, :241/5, :362/5 and :481/5. Baffert caught the colt galloping out an extra furlong in 1:143/5.

War Emblem, along with three other Belmont horses, will be flown to New York this morning, but all of his important training has come at Churchill Downs. Baffert employed the same method for his other Triple Crown threats, Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998. They both finished second in the Belmont.

Temperatures in Louisville have been in the 90s for several days, with high humidity. The New York forecast for race day is no rain, partly cloudy and temperatures in the 70s.

"The heat hasn't bothered him that much," Baffert said. "He's still full of himself. On Monday, when a lot of horses were in their stalls, trying to get relief from fans, this horse came out bucking for his gallop. He's one tough hombre."

At entry time today, 12 horses are expected. Also running will be Artax Too, Essence Of Dubai, Like A Hero, Magic Weisner, Medaglia d'Oro, Perfect Drift, Proud Citizen, Puzzlement, Sarava, Sunday Break and Wiseman's Ferry. "Everything's a go," Baffert said. "We'll send him up there, hope he draws a decent hole [post position] and then keep our fingers crossed."

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