Updated on 09/16/2011 7:32AM

It's all over but the running


ELMONT, N.Y. - As he galloped through the homestretch at Belmont Park on Thursday morning, War Emblem passed oversized placards in the infield that bear the names and silks of the 11 Triple Crown winners. On Saturday afternoon, War Emblem will attempt to join that illustrious group, when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner goes for the Triple Crown in the 134th Belmont Stakes.

Ten others will try to stand in War Emblem's way. The field was reduced on Thursday morning, when Puzzlement, the runner-up in the Peter Pan Stakes, was scratched by trainer Allen Jerkens because of bruised right front foot. All 11 runners will carry 126 pounds. The Belmont's purse is $1 million, with $600,000 to the winner, but the owners of War Emblem will receive a bonus of $5 million from Visa, the Triple Crown's sponsor, should War Emblem win.

War Emblem is owned 90 percent by The Thoroughbred Corporation of Prince Ahmed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, and 10 percent by Russell Reineman, of Chicago, who sold the majority share in the colt 3 1/2 weeks before the Derby.

War Emblem never had set foot on Belmont Park's main track before Thursday morning. Accompanied by a pony, he left Barn 7 at 8:45 a.m., entered the track at the 1 1/4-mile gap, and jogged with the pony until the top of the stretch. He then galloped alone through the stretch, gliding along with exercise rider Mick Jenner. War Emblem then headed back to the barn, the humid weather leaving him understandably sweaty, even though he had been out for a mere 10 minutes.

"He looked great," said Bob Baffert, War Emblem's trainer. "You always worry about how they'll handle the surface. He was hitting ground beautiful. He just floats. That's why we call him the stealth bomber.

"I'm anxious. I don't know how I'm going to sleep the next couple of nights. If anybody's got some heavy-duty medication, let me know. If he stays like this for the next couple of days, I'm going to be happy."

If War Emblem wins the Belmont, he'll likely send a record crowd into delirium. No horse has swept the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, and the possibility of a Triple Crown is expected to attract a crowd in excess of 85,000. The record Belmont attendance is 85,818, set in 1999, when Charismatic was attempting to sweep the Triple Crown.

War Emblem is the 4-5 favorite on the early line set by Mike Watchmaker of Daily Racing Form. Souvenir hunters are expected to purchase a number of $2 win tickets, which will be kept, not cashed, if War Emblem wins.

Conditions are expected to be ideal, with a high in the mid-70's, mostly sunny skies, and no threat of rain.

Baffert has done his best to sell the race. He was scheduled to appear on Friday morning's "Today" show with Katie Couric. He was on Don Imus's nationally syndicated radio show on Thursday morning. And he told a large gathering of New York-based media on Thursday morning at Belmont Park, "We want New York to come out. It's not the same watching it on TV."

For those who cannot get to Belmont Park, however, the race is on NBC, in a 90-minute telecast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Belmont is 6:10 p.m. It is the 10th race on a 12-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. The undercard is sensational, with the most notable supporting race the Grade 1 Manhattan, which features a top group of older turf horses, such as Beat Hollow and Strut the Stage.

There is trifecta and superfecta wagering on the Belmont. It also is the first leg of a pick three, the second leg of a pick four, the third leg of another pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $500,000, and the fifth leg of a pick six that has a guaranteed pool of $1 million.

War Emblem is trying to go from an unknown to an immortal in two months. His form before his runaway victory in the Illinois Derby is clearly no longer germane. He was a front-running winner of the Kentucky Derby, when he benefited from a soft pace, but he was afforded no such luxury in the Preakness, which he won after fighting off challenges from Menacing Dennis, then Proud Citizen, and, lastly, Magic Weisner.

Now, he will test his speed and stamina in the longest of the Triple Crown races, 1 1/2 miles, one lap around Belmont Park.

"The key with him has been distance," Baffert said. "Once he started going 1 1/8 miles, that separated him. The farther he goes, the better."

The challengers for War Emblem have various levels of talent.

Proud Citizen finished second in the Derby, then was third in the Preakness, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths after a wide trip.

Perfect Drift was third in the Derby, when his closing charge was hindered by the soft pace, and he was purposely kept out the Preakness to point for the Belmont.

"War Emblem had things his way in the Derby," said Murray Johnson, the trainer of Perfect Drift, who said he was not surprised so many decided to challenge War Emblem. "He's trained by a top guy, and whenever you've got the top guy, everybody wants to knock him off."

Sunday Break comes off an easy victory in the Peter Pan Stakes. His progress is similar to that of A.P. Indy, who missed the Derby in 1992, prepped with a victory in the Peter Pan, then won the Belmont. A.P. Indy was trained by Neil Drysdale, who trains Sunday Break.

Medaglia d'Oro performed well in the Derby, when he was fourth after breaking poorly and then encountering trouble, but he turned in a dull effort in the Preakness. Trainer Bobby Frankel has decided to try one last time against this group, and Medaglia d'Oro has trained well the past week at Belmont Park.

Magic Weisner nearly pulled off a shocker when second at 45-1 in the Preakness. He was bred by Nancy Alberts, who owns, trains, and acts as the exercise rider for Magic Weisner. His victory would be one for the little guy.

Essence of Dubai, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, was a disappointing ninth in the Derby, and has not raced since.

A victory by Sarava would be a satisfying ending to a bizarre week for trainer Ken McPeek, who ran Harlan's Holiday in the Derby and Preakness, then had that colt removed from his care this week.

Wiseman's Ferry comes off a front-running victory in the Lone Star Derby. His early speed makes him the biggest troublemaker for War Emblem the first half of the race.

Like a Hero is a son of Pleasant Colony, whose own bid for a Triple Crown was foiled in the 1981 Belmont.

And the longshot Artax Too is a grandson of Conquistador Cielo, who won the 1982 Belmont.

There's something for everyone in this year's Belmont. Maybe even a Triple Crown winner.

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