07/21/2015 11:46AM

War Emblem pensioned, headed to Old Friends

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Maryland Jockey Club
2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem will be pensioned to Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky.

by Joe Nevills and Nicole Russo

Dual classic winner War Emblem, whose years at stud in Japan have been marked by frustration, has been pensioned from stallion duty, and terms have been reached to repatriate him to Old Friends Thoroughbred retirement farm in Georgetown, Ky., with an expected arrival in September.

War Emblem, a 16-year-old son of Our Emblem, captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. He would be the latest U.S. runner to join the Old Friends roster after finishing stud duty in Japan, following 1997 dual classic winner Silver Charm, who took up residence at the farm in December 2014.

War Emblem was sold to the Yoshida family's Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido, Japan, upon his retirement from racing and entered stud in 2003.

“It’s been a very fortuitous arrangement,” said Old Friends founder and president Michael Blowen. “We’ve had such a wonderful relationship with both Shadai and the [Japan Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association] and everybody in Japan that have been just extremely understanding about how much we love to get these horses back.

“I think with the good experience we had with Silver Charm coming back, and Sunshine Forever and Ogygian and some of the others, that they now look at us as a good place to retire some of these horses because we respect what they did and they know their fans would love to see them,“ he continued.

Blowen said the deal to bring War Emblem back to the U.S. was not entirely complete, but both sides quickly came to an agreement when Blowen proposed the idea.

“You hate to say it’s a done deal until the horse gets off the trailer, but at this point it’s as done as it’s going to get done,” he said. “We haven’t sent them the money and they haven’t sent us the horse, but I don’t think that’s going to be much of a problem.”

War Emblem sired only four foals in his first crop, as he was picky about the mares he covered, often showing complete disinterest.

The farm attempted to bolster his libido via several avenues, including therapy led by stallion-behavior specialists, letting the horse select his own mates, and moving him from Shadai’s main stallion complex to a less-intimidating location at Katsumi Yoshida's Northern Farm.

However, War Emblem remained uninterested. Dr Nobuo Tsunoda, the veterinarian who oversees the Shadai stallions, told Racing Post that War Emblem has refused to cover any mares for the last few seasons. Japan Stud Book records show the stallion has not had any registered offspring since 2012, when 13 foals were recorded.
Equineline statistics show that of War Emblem’s 109 reported starters, 77 are winners, including nine stakes winners, for combined earnings of $34,276,415 in U.S. dollars. His top runners include Robe Tissage, Japan’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2012; and Black Emblem, winner of the Shuka Sho, third leg of Japan’s filly Triple Crown, in 2008.

Blowen wasted little time contacting the Shadai operation when he heard War Emblem had been pensioned at stud.

“There’s a woman named Amy Osborne who went to visit some of the stallions over there, and she went to see War Emblem and a bunch of the others,” Blowen said. “She sent me pictures of them and said, ‘By the way, they came over to me at the end and said he’s retired.’

“I immediately emailed Emmanuel de Seroux at Narvick International who does all the work for us to get these horses home, and said, ‘I heard this story that War Emblem might be retired, and if he is, we’d love to raise the money and bring him home.’ He emailed me back the next day and said they’ve agreed to do it.”

Blowen praised the Japanese stud farm for the care it has shown toward War Emblem throughout his breeding career, and for the care it has agreed to show as the horse prepares to leave.

“I wanted to get him right away, and they said it was going to be too hot in Tokyo and they didn’t want to move him over there until it cooled off a little bit,” he said. “They also said they wanted to send his vet over with him on the plane along with a groom to ensure his safety. They’re very concerned about the welfare of the horse, and I’m very pleased with that.”

Racing for Russell. L. Reineman and trainer Frank Springer, War Emblem burst into prominence with a 6 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby in 2002. He was subsequently purchased by the late Prince Ahmed bin Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation and was transferred to Bob Baffert.

For those connections, he posted a front-running victory in the Kentucky Derby a few weeks later, then followed up with the Preakness Stakes. However, the front-running colt stumbled badly at the start of the Belmont Stakes, and finished eighth in his bid for the Triple Crown. He added the Haskell Invitational to his résumé later that summer, and was honored as the Eclipse Award champion 3-year-old male of 2002.

War Emblem will become the third American classic winner to call Old Friends home. The first was, ironically, Sarava, who won the 2002 Belmont Stakes as War Emblem faltered in his bid for the Triple Crown. The other is 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm, who was also trained by Baffert.

Silver Charm, who finished second in his Belmont, and War Emblem were part of a streak of Triple Crown futility for Baffert, who also sent out dual classic winner Real Quiet to finish second by a nose in the 1998 Belmont. The trainer finally captured his long-awaited Triple Crown this year with American Pharoah, and, following the Belmont Stakes, donated $50,000 to Old Friends.

“I told Bob Baffert about it, and he’s very excited about him coming home,” Blowen said about War Emblem’s impending arrival. “I told him, ‘Now, the only Derby winner we’re missing [of Baffert’s] is American Pharoah, so if things shouldn’t work out [at stud]… . We’d have to build a whole new farm for him and he’d have his own distinct group of visitors.”