06/07/2002 11:00PM

'Doomed' Crown bid apparent from start

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ELMONT, N.Y. - This time, trainer Bob Baffert knew his Triple Crown bid was lost before they crossed the finish line the first time.

Baffert said "we were doomed" when War Emblem broke poorly leaving the starting gate and was behind horses just a few jumps into the race.

Though he made a gallant effort to take the lead midway up the backstetch, War Emblem tired to finish eighth in Saturday's 134th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. The loss meant that the Triple Crown would go unclaimed for a 24th consecutive year.

For Baffert, it was the third time in the last six years that he came to New York with a chance to win the Triple Crown only to be denied.

In 1997, Silver Charm fell three-quarters of a length short. In 1998, Real Quiet was beaten a nose by Victory Gallop.

"They were in it from the start, you knew you were in good shape the whole way," Baffert said. "This horse, from the start, I knew we were doomed. It was gut-wrenching to have to watch the whole race because the poor horse he was trying so hard.

"You could tell he made that move down the backside, but when he gets behind like that he has trouble and he cuts his air off. He'd have to be some kind of mechanical horse to overcome that."

Baffert compared War Emblem's loss Saturday to Point Given's fifth-place finish as the favorite in last year's Kentucky Derby.

"The fans didn't get to see the real War Emblem," Baffert said.

Baffert chose to accentuate the positive, noting that three weeks before the Derby he didn't have a horse for the Triple Crown series. His owner, Saudi Prince Ahmed bin Salman, purchased 90 percent of the horse for $900,000 from Chicago businessman Russell Reineman.

"We feel fortunate that we won the Derby and the Preakness and had fun with him," Baffert said.

"The bright side is that a month before the Derby I had nothing and here I am."

As for eventually winning the Triple Crown, Baffert said, "I want to do it, but it's tough. Next time I win the Derby, I'm heading home."