Champion thoroughbred dies from possible accident

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Courtesy Laura Battles/Old Friends Retirement
War Emblem shows off for Old Friends founder and President Michael Blowen in his stable at Old Friends in December 2019. War Emblem was one of the most popular draws for the horse retirement center.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (WTVQ) – Dual classic winner War Emblem has died, possibly from an accident in his paddock.

Old Friends Thoroughbred Rtirement Center, near Georgetown, where War Emblem had lived since 2015, made the announcement Wednesday afternoon.

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The horse, who won the 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness before being upset in the Belmont, was found dead Wednesday morning. He was 21

The cause of death is perceived to be a fatal paddock accident, but exact details are unknown. However, a full necropsy report is pending,” Old Friends said in a statement.

War Emblemseems to be listening as Blowen explains War Emblem’s history to visitors in December 2019.

In 2015 Old Friends re-repatriated War Emblem from the Yoshida family’s Shadai Stallion Farm in Japan. He was the second Kentucky Derby winner returned to the Bluegrass by Old Friends from overseas. Silver Charm, 1997 winner, arrived in 2014.

War Emblem (Our Emblem – Sweetest Lady, Lord at War) was bred by Charles Nuckols Jr. and Sons of Midway, Ky., and originally campaigned by Russell Reineman and trainer Frank Springer.

The near black stallion was sold to Prince Ahmed bin Salman’s Thoroughbred Corp. and transferred to Bob Baffert’s barn after he captured the Illinois Derby in an impressive gate-to-wire victory.

Three weeks later War Emblem captured the 128th running of the Kentucky Derby for his new connections.

Following an equally impressive win in the Preakness, War Emblem became a serious contender to capture history’s 12th Triple Crown, but he stumbled badly at the start of the Belmont Stakes and ended up beaten by long-shot Sarava, who is also a retiree at Old Friends.

War Emblem went on to capture the Haskell Invitational for a third Grade 1 win that year and retired with 13 starts, 7 wins, and earnings of $3,491,000.

In the fall of 2002, War Emblem was sold to the Yoshida family for $17 million to stand at their renowned Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido, which also stood the great Sunday Silence.

War Emblem proved a difficult but talented stallion, having sired less than 200 foals in his career but many of them talented runners, including Japan’s champion 2-year-old filly Robe Tissage.

When War Emblem retired from stud duty the Yoshida family generously agreed to donate the stallion to Old Friends. Negotiations were coordinated by Narvick International’s Emmanual de Seroux.

“We’re very grateful to Mr. Yoshida and all of the fans who helped get War Emblem to Old Friends nearly five years ago,” said Old Friends founder and President Michael Blowen. “I know we’re supposed to appreciate all of our retirees the same but he was one of the very special ones. He was tough, narcissistic, bold, and handsome. I adored him.

“I proudly count among a very meager number of accomplishments the day he allowed me to put his halter on without biting me,” Blowen added. “He trusted me. What more could I ask for? The farm will recover from his loss over time, but it’ll never be the same.”