Updated on 09/16/2011 7:20AM

Behind the Derby, a deal with chemistry

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Prince Ahmed Salman (center) and Richard Mulhall (right) with War Emblem after the Derby.

Horses are bought and sold every day, but never has a horse been bought as close as three and a half weeks to the Kentucky Derby and then won the race as War Emblem did this year. The process that brought War Emblem to his new owner, Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corporation, and his trainer, Bob Baffert, was the combination of a willing seller, an eager buyer, and an industrious bloodstock agent who knew the parties and put them together.

Don Brauer, a 46-year-old bloodstock agent from Cooper City, Fla., near Calder Race Course in Miami, is the unsung hero of this year's Derby. He has a long-standing relationship with War Emblem's previous owner, Russell Reineman, who sells many of his horses. Brauer knew War Emblem could be had for the right price. Brauer also buys horses for Baffert and had been instructed by the trainer to be on the lookout for a Derby prospect when it became apparent that Baffert's other 3-year-olds were not going to pan out.

"It was a natural fit," Brauer said from his office in Florida. "Bob was keen on finding a horse."

So were several other trainers this spring. Bobby Frankel, on behalf of owners Ed and Bernice Gann, purchased Labamta Babe, then acquired Medaglia d'Oro after first inquiring about both Perfect Drift and Request for Parole.

In recent years, trainers such as D. Wayne Lukas and Ron McAnally have bought Derby prospects in the spring. None, until now, wore the roses on Derby Day.

War Emblem had a "for-sale" sign for months. A number of bloodstock agents and trainers had made inquiries, according to his previous trainer, Frank "Bobby" Springer. Most of the inquiries were of the tire-kicking variety, but one progressed to a near sale.

War Emblem won an allowance race at Fair Grounds on Nov. 23 by 4 1/2 lengths. He came to the attention of trainer Elliott Walden, who was shopping for a Derby prospect for Bill Casner and Kenny Trout, who race as WinStar Farm.

"He had a good Ragozin number," Walden said, referring to one of the performance systems he uses to evaluate potential purchases. "I had bought Distorted Humor from Reineman, so there was a history there."

War Emblem was given a pre-sale veterinary examination in December by Dr. Bill Baker. He discovered chips in War Emblem's ankles and recommended that Walden not pursue the colt.

"It's not an exact science," Walden said from his barn at Churchill Downs. "I know Dr. Baker feels bad, but we've bought other horses, like Victory Gallop and Distorted Humor, when other vets have turned them down. This just wasn't meant to be."

Subsequent inquiries regarding War Emblem never got far, according to Springer, who said he was always up front about the chips in War Emblem's ankles. "It would make people run in the other direction," he said. "At some point, it's going to have to be taken care of."

War Emblem made several starts after Walden and WinStar turned him down. His fourth race this year was a front-running victory in the Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park on April 6. That same day, the Baffert-trained Danthebluegrassman finished last in the Santa Anita Derby.

The next day, Brauer phoned Lynn Reineman, the daughter of the octogenarian owner, to see if the colt was still for sale. Brauer also was in contact with Baffert, who, learning War Emblem might be for sale, said, "Get on top of it," according to Brauer.

By April 8, negotiations were moving quickly. Baffert, who was in California, asked a Daily Racing Form reporter for War Emblem's Beyer Speed Figure in the Illinois Derby, which would not be published for another 24 hours. Told it was 112, he repeated the information to Richard Mulhall, the racing manager for The Thoroughbred Corp..

That morning, Springer, who had returned to Keeneland with War Emblem, said War Emblem would be pointed for the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Springer said he thought the Preakness would be War Emblem's best chance to win a million-dollar bonus offered by Sportsman's Park to a horse who wins the Illinois Derby and any Triple Crown race.

In fact, had Baffert and Salman not purchased War Emblem, it is unlikely he would have run in the Derby.

On April 9, Baffert and Mulhall flew to Lexington, Ky. The next morning, they watched War Emblem train at Keeneland and liked what they saw. According to Brauer, no new X-rays were taken of War Emblem, a decision that helped speed up the deal. "That's probably one of the main reasons this deal got done," Brauer said. "They didn't bother with a whole vet exam."

Later that morning, Baffert and Mulhall flew back to California, in time for Baffert to be at Santa Anita and see a horse of his win that day's second race.

On the morning of April 11, the money was wired from an account of Salman's to one of Reineman's. The price was $900,000, plus commissions, for 90 percent interest in the colt. Reineman retained 10 percent. "This thing went down so quick," Baffert said that day. "It's a good deal for both parties, especially at this stage of the game."

Brauer said the fact that War Emblem had raced well, even improved, in the months since Walden turned the colt down probably soothed any anxiety over War Emblem's ankle chips. "I've found Bob more willing than most to take a chance with a horse if there's a physical issue," Brauer said. "They knew he was living with what he had."

Two days after the sale, Baffert was asked his first impressions of War Emblem. "I tell you what, I'm excited about that colt." he said.

Perhaps not as excited as Brauer was watching the Derby Saturday at home with his wife. "After the race, my dogs needed earmuffs," he said.

In other developments Wednesday:

- War Emblem returned to the track to jog at Churchill Downs. Harlan's Holiday galloped at Churchill, and Perfect Drift jogged at Trackside training center, their first activity since the Derby.

- U S S Tinosa worked seven furlongs in 1:25.40 at Churchill Downs.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh