Updated on 09/16/2011 7:57AM

War Emblem wins Haskell

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War Emblem wins the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Sunday.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - War Emblem reared up in the gate before the start of the Grade 1 at Monmouth Sunday, but erased any memory of his stumbled start in the Belmont Stakes when he broke sharply to the front and never relinquished the lead to win the $1 million Haskell by 3 1/2 lengths over Magic Weisner.

The Haskell, run at nine furlongs, was the Bob Baffert-trained War Emblem's first race since finishing eighth in the Belmont Stakes in his bid to win the Triple Crown for the first time since 1978. It was also his first start since his owner, Prince Ahmed Salman, died July 22, and capped off a tumultuous three weeks in which War Emblem's status for the race went from in, to out, to back in again.

Yet if there were any doubts the Triple Crown, which included wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, took its toll on War Emblem, he quickly erased them after the start. In the starting gate, the 3-10 favorite War Emblem reared up because the assistant starter grabbed his ear, jockey Victor Espinoza said after the race.

"He was excited going into the gate and he reared, but I told the guy on the gate crew to just leave him alone and he'll settle down," Espinoza said. "Once he broke safe I knew the race was all over."

War Emblem broke well from post 6 in a reduced field of five and raced to the front with Puck and Mr. Mellon contesting him one-half length behind. After recording the first quarter-mile in an easy 23.83, War Emblem straightened out along the backstretch with a one-half length lead over Puck along the rail and Mr. Mellon to his outside.

After easing through a half-mile in 47.23 and a quickened six furlongs in 1:10.67, War Emblem only opened up his lead to nearly four lengths turning for home, while Like a Hero came outside for his run in second and Magic Weisner was swung to his outside from last.

Espinoza hand rode War Emblem, ears pricked, to the finish, never showing him the whip. He took a quick peak back four jumps from the wire and saw Magic Weisner make a belated run to finish 3 1/2 lengths back of the winner. After crossing the wire in 1:48.21 over a fast track before a crowd of 45,212, the second largest in track history, Espinoza raised his right hand in triumph. War Emblem's victory created a minus show pool of $26,602.

After runner-up Magic Weisner, who finished second to War Emblem in the Preakness, came Like a Hero, Puck, who was eased after crossing the wire, and Mr. Mellon.

"He had been doing so well, getting stronger and stronger every day at Del Mar, that we knew he was ready," said Baffert, who won the 2001 Haskell with Point Given. "He was a little rank on the first turn, but once he started striding out, I knew he would win unless something disastrous happened."

War Emblem was the first Kentucky Derby winner since Alysheba to run in the Haskell since 1987. He made history by becoming the first Derby winner to win Monmouth's marquee race of its 78-day meet.

"Just before the race I told Richard Mulhall that no Derby winner had ever won the Haskell," Baffert said, "and he said, 'We'll change that today.'"

Mulhall, the racing manager of the Thoroughbred Corporation, said War Emblem would be flown back to California and then they would decide on his next start. Although Mulhall did not rule out the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga Aug. 24, he said they are leaning to the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar the following day.