Updated on 09/16/2011 7:33AM

Sarava wins as War Emblem stumbles

Sarava (left) wins the Belmont over Medaglia d'Oro, paying $142.50 in the biggest upset in Belmont Stakes history. War Emblem, who was going for the Triple Crown, stumbled at the start and finished eighth.

ELMONT, N.Y. - War Emblem literally stumbled over his chance to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner in Saturday's 134th , which went to the longest shot in Belmont history, the 70-1 outsider Sarava.

War Emblem stumbled badly coming out of the gate, was caught in traffic behind horses for the first five furlongs, made a bold move to vie for the lead down the backstretch, but wilted in the stretch run and finished eighth in the field of 11, 19 1/2 lengths behind Sarava.

"It was gut-wrenching to watch the whole race," said War Emblem's trainer, Bob Baffert, who lost a Triple Crown bid for the third time in the last six years. "He got behind horses. He can't run like that. He's a free-running horse."

Baffert also missed the Triple Crown with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998. As with those two colts, War Emblem won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but could not handle the final leg of the Triple Crown.

"I wanted to do it, but it's tough," Baffert said, getting emotional, in a post-race press conference. "Next time I win the Derby," he joked, "I'm heading home."

Victor Espinoza, who rode War Emblem, said the stumble "cost a lot."

"I was lucky to stay on," Espinoza added. "The second stride, the ground broke out from under him."

Baffert said he could not fault Espinoza for the circumstances in which War Emblem found himself.

Had War Emblem won, he would have earned a $5 million bonus from Visa, the Triple Crown's sponsor.

Affirmed was the last Triple Crown winner, in 1978. Since then, eight horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but could not complete the sweep in the Belmont. War Emblem's owner, Prince Ahmed bin Salman, did not attend the Belmont. He was home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, because of a family commitment, according to his representatives.

In contrast to the disappointment felt by Baffert and the connections of War Emblem, the victory capped an emotional week - and spring - for Ken McPeek, who trains Sarava. Earlier this year, McPeek had two top Kentucky Derby prospects in Repent and Harlan's Holiday. Repent was injured and missed the Derby. Harlan's Holiday failed as the favorite in the Derby, then lost again in the Preakness, and on Monday, owner Jack Wolf removed Harlan's Holiday from McPeek's care, transferring him to trainer Todd Pletcher.

"You know what that means," McPeek mused on Wednesday after the post-position draw. "I'm going to win the Belmont."

On Saturday, McPeek's improbable hope came true. Sarava was making his first start in a graded stakes race. He was sent off as the second-longest shot on the board, and gamely held off Medaglia d'Oro through a prolonged stretch drive to win by a half-length under Edgar Prado.

Sarava paid $142.50 to win. The exacta with Medaglia d'Oro paid $2,454.

Medaglia d'Oro, who was one of only three horses to run in all three Triple Crown races, ran his best race in the series, but came up just short. He did finish 9 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Sunday Break. Magic Weisner was fourth.

Proud Citizen, who was second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, finished fifth, but was pulled up after the race by jockey Mike Smith. Dr. Larry Bramlage, of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said Proud Citizen had "swelling on the inside of his left front ankle." For precautionary reasons, Proud Citizen was removed from the track in a horse ambulance.

Wiseman's Ferry led early, and set fractions of 24.11 seconds for the opening quarter and 48.09 for a half-mile. War Emblem made a bold run at the lead passing the six-furlong mark in 1:12.38. Sarava was in fifth, in the clear, behind Wiseman's Ferry, Medaglia d'Oro, War Emblem, and Proud Citizen.

The field passed the mile mark in 1:37.01, with Medaglia d'Oro narrowly in front of War Emblem. But War Emblem began to weaken just as the field reached the top of the stretch, with a quarter-mile remaining, after 1 1/4 miles was completed in 2:03.50. That fraction belonged to Medaglia d'Oro.

Sarava pounced on Medaglia d'Oro with a little more than a furlong to go. He and Medaglia d'Oro began to pull away from the field, but Sarava maintained a narrow advantage through the final furlong. He covered 1 1/2 miles on the fast main track in 2:29.71.

Sarava, a son of Wild Again, was winning for only the third time in nine starts. He won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard on May 18 for his first stakes victory. McPeek has trained Sarava for his last four starts, in which Sarava has won twice and finished second twice. Prado has ridden him to both victories, including the Belmont.

The New Phoenix Stable, a partnership headed by Gary Drake of Louisville, Ky., owns Sarava.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson