But Baffert stopped short of saying victory in the race at Arlington Park -- which climaxes the 19th running of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships -- will lock up "Horse of the Year" honors for his star 3-year-old.
War Emblem is the morning-line favorite in a field of 12 that will go 1 1/4 mile in the Classic. Most of the top contenders are 3-year-olds, including Irish interloper Hawk Wing. There are seven other championship races on the card, each with the potential for deciding year-end honors in racing's various divisions.
Baffert said War Emblem's poor showing in his last race, the Pacific Classic, was caused by a poor start. The son of Our Emblem was unable to get to the lead and he was unable to run his race. War Emblem has been schooled in the gate since his arrival at Arlington, Baffert said, and he expects a trouble-free start on Saturday.
"He likes to get out there and lead," he said of War Emblem. "That's his running style. We know that taking him back is disastrous."
Baffert acknowledged that E Dubai, who will start from the inside post position, probably will go with War Emblem for the early lead.
"We'll probably go pretty quick," he said.
Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien said Hawk Wing, never worse than second in five starts this year, also is ready to go. The Kentucky-bred son of Woodman probably will be near the back of the pack in the early going. "He's looking for firm going" in his first start on the main track, O'Brien said.
That's a questionable prospect. It was drizzling in Chicago Thursday with the forecast calling for more of the same through Friday.
If E Dubai and War Emblem duel each other into the ground on the lead in the Classic, a small herd of pace-stalkers and closers will be on hand to pick up the pieces. Chief among them are Medaglia d'Oro, Evening Attire, Came Home and Milwaukee Brew.
Came Home arrived in Chicago from Southern California on Wednesday. Trainer Paco Gonzalez said Thursday the colt, who has won six of seven starts this year, "feels very good. He likes the colder weather."
Since his only loss this year came to War Emblem in the Kentucky Derby, Gonzalez said he hopes a victory in the Classic could lead to Horse of the Year honors for him.
Baffert wasn't lobbying -- much -- at a Thursday news conference. Asked about Horse of the Year, he said, "I don't have a vote so I don't have a comment on that."
Another horse with the credentials for year-end honors with a victory Saturday is Azeri, the heavy favorite in the $2 million Distaff for fillies and mares. Azeri has won six in a row and seven of eight this year.
Trainer Laura De Seroux said she feels that record, coupled with a victory in the Distaff, could be good enough to earn Azeri the title Horse of the Year. "But it's up to you guys," she added to a group of reporters. "She has never been in danger of losing any race that she won. She carried weight. Her only loss was in her first stakes start when she had excuses."
Horses were still trickling into Arlington Thursday for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championship card. Some of the Europeans also were awaiting the end of quarantine.
In addition to the Classic and the Distaff, the day's events include the $1 million Long John Silver's Juvenile Fillies for 2-year-old fillies; the $1 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile for 2-year-old colts and geldings; the $1 million NetJets Mile over the turf course; the $1 million NAPA Sprint at 6 furlongs on the main course; the $1 million Filly & Mare Turf at 1 1/4 mile; and the $2 million John Deere Turf at 1 1/2 mile.
The entire card will be carried live in the United States on NBC-TV and shown live and on tape-delay around much of the world.
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