04/11/2002 12:00AM

Baffert gets a Derby horse


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Negotiations to sell Illinois Derby winner War Emblem were completed Thursday morning, with the colt moving to trainer Bob Baffert, who will run him in the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

Baffert one year ago had the largest contingent of 2-year-olds he has ever trained, but none developed into a Derby runner by this spring. Baffert has won the Derby twice, and had the favorite last year in Point Given, who was owned by Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corporation. Baffert said the prince initiated the quest to get War Emblem.

"This thing went down so quick," Baffert said Thursday from Santa Anita.

"We flew out there Tuesday night, watched him train Wednesday morning, came back in time for the second race Wednesday at Santa Anita, and finished the negotiations a couple of hours ago. He's going to Churchill Downs this afternoon."

Salman is in Saudi Arabia, but phoned his racing manager, Richard Mulhall, who lives in California. Baffert and Mulhall came to see War Emblem, who has been stabled at Keeneland with trainer Frank "Bobby" Springer.

The Thoroughbred Corporation will be the majority owner of War Emblem, and War Emblem will run in that stable's familiar green-and-white colors. Russell Reineman, who had owned War Emblem, said he would keep a minority interest in the colt. One person familiar with the sale said the price was just under $1 million.

War Emblem has won four times in seven starts. He has blossomed at current Sportsman's Park meeting, where he won two races in front-running fashion, including the Illinois Derby. By virtue of his Illinois Derby win he will earn a $1 million bonus if he wins any of the Triple Crown races.