Updated on 09/16/2011 7:24AM

War Emblem wins Preakness

War Emblem, under Victor Espinoza, wins the Preakness at Pimlico Saturday.

BALTIMORE - The pace, track, and trip were decidedly different than the Kentucky Derby, but the 127th on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course wound up with the same winner, as War Emblem bravely held on to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.

War Emblem now heads to the June 8 Belmont Stakes with a chance to become the sport's 12th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Affirmed in 1978. If War Emblem wins that race, his owners, Prince Ahmed Salman's Thoroughbred Corporation, and Russell Reinemen, will receive a $5 million bonus from Visa, the Triple Crown's sponsor. Salman owns 90 percent of the colt, Reineman 10 percent.

This is the third time in six seasons that trainer Bob Baffert has won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes to head to Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown. Both Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998 finished second in the Belmont.

Baffert and Salman also won last year's Preakness and Belmont with Point Given, who finished fifth as the favorite in the Derby.

War Emblem was challenged for the early lead in the Preakness, unlike in the Derby, in which he was allowed to set a leisurely pace at Churchill Downs. He had to sit off of the speedy Menacing Dennis through fast fractions, put away that pace rival, turned back a bid from Proud Citizen at midstretch, then outlasted the 45-1 longshot Magic Weisner to win by three-quarters of a length.

Magic Weisner finished second, three-quarters of a length in front of Proud Citizen, who had finished second in the Derby. Harlan's Holiday, the beaten favorite in the Derby, finished fourth.

The biggest disappointment in the race was Medaglia d'Oro, who went off as the second choice at 3-1 and finished eighth after stalking the early pace.

"I don't have much of an excuse, to be honest with you," said Jerry Bailey, who rode Medaglia d'Oro.

Straight Gin, who finished ninth in the 13-horse field, had to be removed from the track in the horse ambulance. According to Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, Straight Gin suffered a bowed tendon in his right front leg.

War Emblem, who was 20-1 in the Derby, went off as the 5-2 favorite and paid $7.60 to win.

It was cold and windy at Pimlico on Saturday, and rain that fell Friday night and into Saturday left the main track in sloppy condition for the first race. The track had been sealed Friday night, so when the rain stopped before noon, the track was quickly upgraded to good, and then fast long before the Preakness.

On that fast track, War Emblem was timed in 1:56.36 for 1 3/16 miles.

The early fractions of 22.97 seconds for the opening quarter and 46.10 for the half were set by Menacing Dennis, but War Emblem was right outside of him. Medaglia d'Oro was just behind those two, with U S S Tinosa to his inside. Booklet was outside that group, with Proud Citizen wider still.

As the field advanced down the backstretch, Menacing Dennis continued to lead narrowly, but War Emblem always was going the stronger of the two. Victor Espinoza, riding War Emblem, had a firm hold on the reins, and War Emblem was running aggressively, a sign the colt would have plenty to offer when asked. They passed the six-furlong mark in 1:10.80, with Menacing Dennis still in front by a head.

"He is aggressive when someone takes his place," Espinoza said.

Espinoza allowed War Emblem to roll along as the field reached the far turn, and he quickly opened daylight on his opposition. War Emblem passed the mile mark in 1:35.22 with a 1 1/2-length lead.

Proud Citizen, who was forced wide on both turns, bravely made a run at War Emblem at midstretch, but War Emblem turned away his challenge.

There was one more to come. Magic Weisner, a Maryland-bred gelding trained, owned, and bred by Nancy Alberts, finished well, but too late. As the field galloped out past the wire, War Emblem never let Magic Weisner get past him.

"Victor, please make the Triple Crown," Salman said to Espinoza on the victory stand.

Baffert said the key to victory in this race was getting War Emblem to try and relax, "key him down a little bit.

"I told Victor to be prepared if someone goes out there," Baffert said. "Opinions die and records live," said the man who had just won his fourth Preakness. "This horse is for real."

War Emblem has now won four straight races and is 6-for-9 lifetime. He is unbeaten in two starts since Salman privately purchased his majority share of the colt from Reineman following the Illinois Derby.

- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty