War Emblem is a solid black Thoroughbred with an irregular white blaze running crookedly down his face. This son of Our Emblem and Sweetest Lady (Lord at War) is best known for his smashing win in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. War Emblem went in to the gate at Churchill Downs on that beautiful day in May with odds of 20-1; obvisouly no one thought too highly of the black horse. Trained by Bob Baffert and owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., War Emblem was bought just three weeks before the Kentucky Derby for $900,000. He had won the Illinios Derby, but even that win didn't impress anyone enough to give him better odds in the Run for the Roses.
It was the Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby when this black horse ran away with my heart. My orignal Derby pick, Siphonic, was sadly cut from the race because of an ankle injury. So I went searching for a new horse and I found Sunday Break. Everyone wanted a piece of the Derby this year, and Sunday Break hadn't made enough in earnings to make the cut into the 20 horse field. With both of my Derby picks dashed, and only a short time until the race, I looked hard for a new horse. I read page after page on the horses in the Derby, but didn't find anything that jumped out at me. Somehow, I had skipped over the son of Our Emblem. On that Wednesday before the Derby, I was in the kitchen getting ready for another day of school. As I was pulling my bookbag over my shoulders, my step-father lifted up the sports section, and there on the front in a glorious color picture, was one of the most gorgeous horses I had ever laid eyes on, and his name was War Emblem.
In the Kentucky Derby, with 18 horses loaded into the gate (two of the orginal 20 had been scratched) War Emblem burst from post position 5 with Victor Espinoza sitting high on board. War Emblem broke in the front and never looked back, took no prisoners. I sat on the floor, taping the race, my fingers and arms in the Triple Cross for my horse and my jockey. The horses made the turn for home and War Emblem powered away, pulling away by one length, then two, then three, until finally the wire came. Four lengths later, 17 other horses crossed behind him. Suddenly, a 20-1 longshot was on everyone's tongue. People who had looked over the colt with chips in his knees were all of a sudden saying how they knew he would win all along. I jumped up from the floor with the biggest smile on my face. My heart was pounding hard and my hands were shaking, but I had a hero.
Two weeks later, I sat in front of my mom's television for the 127th running of the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown. I knew War Emblem had all it took to win the race, and the field was much the same as from the Derby. My Black Stealth Bomber was really going to show the world what he had. People everywhere had said how the Derby was a fluke, that he had been handed the race because of slow fractions. But even if that was the case, I knew that War Emblem held some knowing power, some force that he was getting ready to unleash. I sat on the floor, my heart about to pound out of my chest, and waited. The bell rang for the Preakness and War Emblem broke out perfectly. Menacing Dennis shoved off to a quick lead, but Victor, being the fabulous jockey he is, held War Emblem back, sensing the pace was too fast, and that sending War Emblem out after the front runner would cost the race for sure. Then, War Emblem overtook him, and Victor finally let my black wonder horse go. War Emblem gobbled up the track, practically inhaled it. I was on my knees now, doing the Triple Cross, and chanting to myself, "Come on Victor, come on Victor." Even though Magic Wiesner closed fast, and many people believe would have caught War Emblem had the race been longer, War Emblem won the race. History could be made or broken in a simple three weeks.
Three weeks later, New York's Belmont Park sounded it's bugle to call the horses and jockeys to the track for the 10th race...the Belmont Stakes. There had not been a Triple Crown winner since 1978, when Affirmed gave it every ounce he had to edge out Alydar. Now, 24 years later, and 25 years since Seattle Slew had won in 1977, Triple Crown was on everyone's minds, and War Emblem was the horse to beat. But the day proved to not be War Emblem's. He stumbled badly at the gate; so badly that it is a wonder Victor even stayed on. He spent so much getting back up and recovering, that he had only so much for a race, and not enough left to race a mile and half. War Emblem gave it everything he had, taking the lead at one point, but giving way as his gasoline radar began to point to empty. He finished 8th, and after all was said and done, my hero immerged covered in dirt, my idol splattered with mud, and maybe a broken heart, but War Emblem's eyes were clear. If that race could be run again, I know it would be all War Emblem.
War Emblem has raced two times since the heartbreaking Belmont Stakes. The Haskell Invitational, in which he abliterated the field, and the Pacific Classic, in which he finished fifth.
And now, with his career as a racehorse finished in the book of his life, he moves on to duties at stud in Japan. Thousands of miles from his place of birth, War Emblem will reside. And in the words of Bilbo Baggins, "I have thought of an ending for my book: 'And he lived happily ever after, 'til the end of his days.'" And I'm sure he will.