War Emblem, 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, dies

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GEORGETOWN, Ky. — War Emblem, the 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, died Wednesday at age 21.

He had been at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Center since 2015 after returning from Japan. Officials said the cause of death was believed to be a paddock accident, but exact details weren’t known. A necropsy was pending.

War Emblem was sold to Prince Ahmed bin Salman’s Thoroughbred Corp. and transferred to trainer Bob Baffert after the colt won the Illinois Derby. Three weeks later, he won the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness to set up a Triple Crown bid.

However, he stumbled badly at the start of the Belmont and ended up losing to 70-1 shot Sarava, who also lives at Old Friends.

War Emblem won the Haskell Invitational later that year. He retired with seven wins in 13 career starts and earnings of $3,491,000.

War Emblem was sold for $17 million to Shadai Stallion Farm in Japan. He proved a difficult but talented stallion, having sired fewer than 200 foals in his career. But many of them were talented runners, including Robe Tissage, Japan’s champion 2-year-old filly. After retiring from stud duty, War Emblem was donated to Old Friends.

“I know we’re supposed to appreciate all of our retirees the same, but he was one of the very special ones,” Old Friends founder and president Michael Blowen said. “He was tough, narcissistic, bold, and handsome. I proudly count among a very meager number of accomplishments the day he allowed me to put his halter on without biting me. He trusted me.”