ESPN Horse Racing

The walk before a good run ended
By Kenny Mayne
Special to

Bob Baffert was tending to his sons on the walk from barn 7 to the paddock. He'd lost contact with his animal. "How's the horse doing?," he asked. Somebody assured him all was well.

At the start of the 134th Belmont the horse was not well. Not at all. About the only thing that could keep War Emblem from the lead into the clubhouse turn was a stumble at the break.

Do-over, anyone?

And things were going so swell on the walk from barn 7 to the paddock. Just before making the move over to the paddock, a move that seemed almost ceremonial, Baffert looked at his watch. It was 5:45 p.m., a half-hour from the race. Let's get this thing over with, he seemed to be saying. Or maybe he just wanted to admire his watch. Or maybe he wasn't even wearing a watch and was looking at his wrist. It's all fairly confusing right now.

It seemed so clear on the walk to the paddock.

Baffert spoke of how the officials would be checking War Emblem's tattoo, standard procedure in racing for identity confirmation. "Like we got another one of these back there," he laughed.

None other like him seemed to exist in the 3-year-old group. This guy was the one Baffert had called "stealth". But by now his talent was visible to the whole world.

Baffert's kids were concerned about what kind of reception the New York crowd would give their father when they emerged from the tunnel to the paddock. The crowd played nice. "There's nothing left to do now," Baffert said. He sent the kids with an escort to the box seats.

That's where they'd suffer their disappointment. Not from anything directed at them by the crowd. When Sarava crossed the line first, a huge sigh let out as War Emblem's Triple Crown had been denied. There was some amount of celebration from the lunatics who'd backed 70-1 Sarava, whose participation in the race wasn't substantiated until his prices hit the board.

At some point Baffert and his sons and War Emblem walked back to barn 7. It's a shorter walk in terms of ground covered. No need to check one's watch.

Unless one had the power to turn it back to 5:45 p.m., a half-hour before a perfect walk was interrupted.

Belmont ratings highest for a horse race in 10 years