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JULY 12, 2010

War Emblem saga continues

by Michele MacDonald

Just when WAR EMBLEM (Our Emblem) appeared to be on his way to a more normal life as a breeding stallion, he has suddenly reverted to the disdain for covering mares that has shadowed the years since he won the 2002 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness S. (G1). Officials with the Shadai Stallion Station on the island of Hokkaido in Japan said the now 11-year-old horse only covered five of the more than 300 mares presented to him during the recently completed breeding season.

His lack of interest follows the 2009 season during which the nearly black War Emblem impregnated more mares than at any other time, with a career-high 43 foals born in 2010, said Eisuke Tokutake, who oversees stallion nominations for Shadai.

Tokutake and Naoki Sakuda, the groom who cares for War Emblem and previously worked with the legendary Sunday Silence, indicated that no one has a clear explanation for why War Emblem cannot seem to maintain interest in breeding.

"People cannot choose the mares for him; he selects his mares," Tokutake said.

"Probably he is a shy guy who is afraid of the mares," Sakuda said. "He's very difficult -- shy but wild and selfish."

While the Yoshida family, which operates the Shadai Stallion Station, has demonstrated infinite patience with the horse they paid an estimated $17 million to obtain for stud duty when he was a three-year-old, it is not clear what options remain.

"We don't know what he will do next year," said Teruya Yoshida, owner of Shadai Farm and a partner with his brothers in the operation of the stallion station. "We've done everything we can do."

Yoshida's all-encompassing comment probably is nonetheless an understatement. War Emblem has been housed in a manner highly atypical for a breeding stallion, kept in the remote and tranquil Barn 9 at Katsumi Yoshida's Northern Farm with only mares and fillies surrounding him. This housing situation was suggested by equine behavior specialists who have worked with the horse and suggested he might have been intimidated when stabled with older, dominant stallions.

This year, the Yoshidas committed virtually all of the mares they own at Shiraoi Farm, a family venture overseen by the umbrella Shadai Corp., to War Emblem. Vans would travel from the Shiraoi property to Barn 9, stop for however long it took War Emblem to reject (or, in a few cases, accept) the mares on board, and then continue on to the Shadai Stallion Station for the mares to be bred to more willing mates, Tokutake said.

"He tries to bite or kick or strike," Sakuda said while describing how War Emblem reacted to most mares.

When he did decide to breed, his coverings were normal.

Known as a tough horse to handle while racing, War Emblem lunges at Sakuda repeatedly when he is brought out for visitors, snapping at the groom and slapping at his lead shank.

"I've learned a lot from this horse -- too many things," said Sakuda, who undoubtedly also was taught much by the spirited Sunday Silence. "But still there is more I have to learn."

After eight seasons at stud, War Emblem has sired only 102 foals, with none reported in 2007 and 2008. But his foals that have made it to the races have done well, including 2008 classic-winning filly Black Emblem (Jpn).

"War Emblem has some good foals born this year, so we hope we can make one or two stallions out of them," Yoshida said.



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