Baffert gets his post, but not favorite's role

Thursday, May 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Maybe D. Wayne Lukas knew what he was talking about when he called Bob Baffert extremely lucky.

Hours after Lukas marveled at his rival trainer's continual good fortune, Baffert came up with the top choice Wednesday in the post-position draw for the Preakness.

Baffert decided to send Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem from the No. 8 post. Whether the horse goes off as the favorite on Saturday remains to be seen.

Medaglia d'Oro was installed the 5-2 morning line favorite by Pimlico handicapper Frank Carulli. War Emblem was at 3-1 despite his wire-to-wire victory in the Derby.

``I think handicappers realize he isn't going to get to do it again,'' said John Ward, trainer of Booklet.

It would be foolish to underestimate Baffert, who appeared destined to be without a horse in the Derby before Saudi Prince Ahmed Salman bought War Emblem from 84-year-old Russell Reineman for $900,000 and handed the 3-year-old to Baffert.

``He's extremely lucky, period,'' Lukas said shortly after his arrival at Pimlico. ``Not only this year, but all the time. He seems like he's always landing on his feet. He's been on scholarship his whole life.''

Ward, confident the other 12 horses in the field won't let War Emblem run away at the start, expects Baffert's luck to run out Saturday. But by starting at the No. 8 post, War Emblem will be in good position to bolt to the lead.

``I knew the speed horses wanted to be outside me, so I thought I'd put them way outside,'' Baffert reasoned. ``It was either 8 or 9 or 10, so I figured 8 is fine.''

He can also live with the idea that War Emblem might begin the race as an underdog.

``The reason he's not the favorite is because everyone made a point of saying they're going to go out there and burn him up and toast him,'' Baffert said. ``If he's toasted, then give it to a horse who comes off the pace.''

Baffert doesn't expect that to happen, and relishes the role of the underdog.

``The three times I won here, I wasn't the morning line favorite,'' he said. ``So I'm not complaining.''

Baffert is shooting for his fourth Preakness victory in six years. Lukas goes for his sixth, which would put him one behind all-time leader Robert Walden.

Lukas' Proud Citizen, the runner-up in the Derby, was listed at 6-1. His other entrant, Table Limit, opened at 30-1.

If Lukas was making the odds, he'd put War Emblem at the top of the list.

``He's got a high cruising speed and he got it all his own way at the Derby,'' Lukas said. ``He's definitely the one we're going to have to deal with here.''

The four Derby horses in the field were the top four betting choices. The nine non-Derby runners were at odds ranging from 10-1 for Booklet to 50-1 for Menacing Dennis.

Only one time in the past 18 years has a non-Derby entrant won the Preakness, but Ward is convinced that Booklet can make it 2-for-19.

``The rest of the horses were coming up the scale,'' he said. ``Booklet has been a Derby candidate since the 15th of January, and Booklet has danced every dance but the Derby. We pulled back because we figured a fresh horse with his ability would have a better shot at winning the Preakness than the Kentucky Derby.''

To do so, he's got to beat Baffert. Booklet will start from the No. 10 gate, which helps.

``We got what we wanted, being outside of War Emblem,'' he said. ``All the speed wanted that. This race might be won and lost at the first turn.''