Updated on 09/16/2011 7:18AM

War Emblem wires Kentucky Derby

War Emblem ($43) and Victor Espinoza cross the wire in front in the 128th Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - War Emblem, allowed to coast alone on the lead, led from start to finish to capture the 128th at 20-1 on Saturday at Churchill Downs, giving trainer Bob Baffert his third Derby victory.

War Emblem was purchased less than a month ago by Baffert on behalf of Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corporation. None of the dozens of 2-year-olds that Baffert began with one year ago panned out, forcing Baffert and Salman to buy their way into the Derby.

They found a willing seller in owner Russell Reineman, who raced War Emblem for the first seven starts of his career, in which he was trained by veteran Midwest horseman Frank "Bobby" Springer. War Emblem won four of those races, most recently the Illinois Derby, in which he ran a Beyer Speed Figure of 112, highest in the Derby field. After that race, War Emblem was purchased privately for $900,000, plus commissions, according to Salman, a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

Also signing off on the purchase was Richard Mulhall, Salman's racing manager, who accompanied Baffert to Keeneland the second week of April to negotiate the purchase of War Emblem.

The pace was expected to be contested, but a number of horses did not go out with War Emblem. He was able to set moderate fractions of 23.25 seconds, 47.04, 1:11.75, and 1:36.70 for the first mile. War Emblem completed 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track in 2:01.13.

War Emblem kicked clear in the stretch and won by a widening four lengths. Proud Citizen, who also was close to the pace early, held on for second, three-quarters of a length in front of third-place Perfect Drift.

Salman got the Derby trophy he coveted one year ago with the best horse he has ever bred and raced, Point Given. That colt finished fifth as the favorite in the Derby, but came back to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. He also was named Horse of the Year for 2001.

"I told the prince 'I owe you a Derby after last year,' " Baffert said.

"It's an honor to win the Kentucky Derby. It's always been my dream," Salman said. "I'd like to thank Bob Baffert. He is a genius."

Jockey Victor Espinoza rode War Emblem for the first time, and recorded his first victory in America's greatest race. Espinoza placed Perfect Drift in tight quarters with a quarter-mile remaining, but Eddie Delahoussaye, who rode Perfect Drift, said the incident did not alter the outcome, so he did not lodge an objection.

War Emblem paid $43 to win. The exacta with Proud Citizen paid $1,300.80, and the Oaks-Derby double coupling Kentucky Oaks winner Farda Amiga with War Emblem returned $1,395.40.

The Derby was run on a gorgeous spring afternoon. Temperatures were mild, with a high in the low-70's. An unprecedented show of security surrounded this Derby, with SWAT team members on the roof, National Guard members throughout the facility, and a regular contingent of uniformed security. The crowd was announced as 145,033, which would make it the fifth-largest in Derby history.

With 18 runners, the Derby's purse was $1,175,000, with $875,000 going to the winner. Salman also will pick up a $1 million bonus, offered by Sportsman's Park, by virtue of War Emblem winning the Illinois Derby and any Triple Crown race.

There were several disappointments in the race. Harlan's Holiday, who came into the race having finished first six times and second four times in his 10 career starts, wound up seventh. Harlan's Holiday went off at 6-1, making him the highest priced favorite in Derby history.

"As soon I got the horse in the clear, I had to start riding to keep my position," said Edgar Prado, who rode Harlan's Holiday. "They were going easy on the front end. If I had had horse, I'd have been right there."

Came Home, the Santa Anita Derby winner, finished sixth after a wide trip.

"He came up empty," said Chris McCarron, who rode Came Home. "The trip I got was really not the reason. Maybe everybody was right and I was wrong. Maybe he doesn't want to go a mile and a quarter."

Saarland, who was bet down to 6-1 and was the second choice in the race, finished 10th. Johannesburg, last year's champion 2-year-old colt, continued the inglorious record of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winners by finishing eighth.

A field of 18 went to the post in the Derby. Danthebluegrassman, a last-minute entry by Baffert on Wednesday, was scratched from the race Saturday morning. Buddha, the Wood Memorial winner, had been scratched Friday morning.

The scratch of Danthebluegrassman removed one of the probable front-runners from the race, which made War Emblem's task easier.

- additional reporting by David Grening