Updated on 09/16/2011 7:28AM

Longshot joins War Emblem's foes

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Peter Pan winner Sunday Break will try to prevent War Emblem from winning the Triple Crown.

Fresh from a trip home to California to see his children, and a quick visit to Dallas on Monday to watch Congaree win his comeback race, trainer Bob Baffert returned to Kentucky on Tuesday to begin final preparations for the Belmont Stakes with War Emblem, who on June 8 will seek to become the 12th Triple Crown winner.

As of Tuesday, 13 horses were being considered as challengers to War Emblem, who has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. They include such familiar names as Proud Citizen, who was second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, and Perfect Drift, who was third in the Derby and then skipped the Preakness. The other top contender figures to be Sunday Break, who won Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99.

"It was made to order," jockey Gary Stevens said. "We didn't want him to dig down hard with the Belmont just two weeks away."

The Belmont picked up a surprise starter on Tuesday when owner Ernie Paragallo said his colt Artax Too would run. Artax Too has won twice in five starts. He comes off a victory in a May 15 allowance race on turf at Belmont Park, in which he earned a lifetime best Beyer Speed Figure of 85. He will be ridden by Norberto Arroyo Jr., Paragallo said.

Artax Too worked seven furlongs in a swift 1:24.81 on Tuesday morning at Aqueduct.

"This is a big-time racehorse," Paragallo said from New York. "I've always known he was a big-time racehorse. That's why I gave him that name."

Paragallo raced sprint champion Artax, who, like Artax Too, was sired by Marquetry.

As of Tuesday, 13 horses were being considered as challengers to War Emblem, who has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. They include such familiar names as Proud Citizen, who was second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, and Perfect Drift, who was third in the Derby and then skipped the Preakness. The other top contender figures to be Sunday Break, who won last Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99.

Several runners - such as Wiseman's Ferry and Tracemark, the one-two finishers in the Lone Star Derby - are on the fence, so the field could be reduced by the time entries are taken and post positions drawn next Wednesday, June 5. Regardless, it does not appear the Belmont will have more entries than the maximum of 16 who can run in the race.

The prospect of a large field did not concern Baffert, who said of War Emblem, "As long as this dude's doing great, there's nothing to worry about." He added, "I think it's going to be between this horse and Proud Citizen."

War Emblem returned to Churchill Downs immediately following the Preakness and will train there until next Wednesday, when he is scheduled to be flown to New York. War Emblem was scheduled to have two workouts before leaving, with one scheduled for Wednesday and another next Tuesday, the day before his travel day. Dana Barnes, Baffert's top exercise rider, was flying from California on Tuesday for Wednesday morning's workout.

"As long as Dana gives me the thumb's up, everything's okay," Baffert said.

Baffert liked what he saw Tuesday at Churchill Downs. War Emblem, according to the trainer, has shown no signs of slowing down following his victories in the Derby and Preakness. "He's gained weight since the Preakness," Baffert said. "The only two I've had do that are Point Given and him."

Point Given won last year's Belmont Stakes following a victory in the Preakness. Coupled with War Emblem's victories this year, Baffert and Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corporation, which owns Point Given and War Emblem, have won four straight Triple Crown races.

Also scheduled for a Wednesday workout was Sarava, the recent winner of the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard.

War Emblem is expected to be joined on his flight to New York by Proud Citizen, who is scheduled to work again this weekend. Another Kentucky-based runner, Perfect Drift, may not go on that flight, however. Murray Johnson, the trainer of Perfect Drift, said he may send Perfect Drift by van from Kentucky to New York next Tuesday, one day before the Tex Sutton flight that will carry War Emblem and Proud Citizen. Johnson said Perfect Drift has never been on a plane. He also said he was concerned that a Tex Sutton plane had mechanical difficulty last week in California that delayed bringing horses, including Swept Overboard, to the Met Mile.

"Flying would be new for him. I want to try to keep things the same and steady, not have him overcome different things," Johnson said. "Flying would be a big thing to do three days before the biggest race of his life. It might be easier, and quieter, to go by van the day before. Horses get their rest on a horse van. They just rest up against things. He goes on a van all the time from the track to my farm, or to race. I know he handles that."

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson