Ten years later, they’re still out there: bewildered, embittered railbirds who, to this day, believe that War Emblem lost the Triple Crown because of a jockey’s error, or an unlucky post position or some other foreseeable race-related factor. But when trainer Bob Baffert’s even-money favorite stumbled so hard out of the gate at the start of the 2002 Belmont that his nose grazed the dirt before jockey Victor Espinoza righted the colt and dragged him back into the race, War Emblem became just another victim of that ancient, implacable adversary: bad luck. Baffert himself (who was far cockier and, frankly, far more annoying back then than he is today) had hinted at such a fate, telling turf writers: “If you can win the first two legs [of the Triple Crown] you’re a great horse. But you’ve got to have luck to get that third leg.”
Calling War Emblem a “great horse” is, of course, stretching it — he won only one more Grade I stakes race in his career — but he was certainly a gutsy runner who gave his all at Belmont, only to fade in the final quarter-mile of the brutal mile-and-a-half marathon. Then again, anyone who watched the race knows that the way the winner — 70-1 long-shot Sarava — ran that day, it’s unlikely any 3-year-old horse alive in 2002 could have beaten him. War Emblem was a terrific, likeable thoroughbred — ridden by a fine jockey, prepped by a Hall of Fame trainer — who, in the end, simply ran out of luck.
Next Funny Cide (2003)