The Blog

What a Prince

War Emblem's owner is a Saudi Prince and a perfect example of the character of our ally Saudi Arabia.

10:00 AM, Jun 7, 2002 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

FOR ANYONE who has ever been to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, the giddy, chaotic moments after the Kentucky Derby linger in the mind like the dull, bitter taste after hours of drinking bourbon and sugar water on an empty stomach. Those memories are brief, kaleidoscope-flashes of color--pink and yellow and black, mostly. This year, at that happy time, Big Hats outnumbered victory celebrations by 100 to 1. It was obvious that a long-shot had won.

Anytime a long-shot wins a horse race, the crowd buzzes with excitement, much of it the din of whispered curses and second-guessing. At this year's Kentucky Derby, that electric murmur came when 20-1 War Emblem shocked everyone with an easy victory. How fitting. War Emblem sweeps to an easy Derby win as the United States trounces the Taliban in the war on terror.

A second wave of hushed enthusiasm came when the crowd began to realize that the exacta--which paid a whopping $1300.80--also had a patriotic theme: War Emblem, first; Proud Citizen, second. How appropriate. And how frustrating. Those of use who fancy ourselves "experts" were once again out-performed by amateurs. No doubt anyone who had a War Emblem-Proud Citizen exacta had it not because of bloodlines, speed figures, trainers, jockeys, or past performances. No, it could only have been luck--the super-patriots who picked horses based on their names were cashing huge tickets. Jerks.

And then, when the owner and trainer gave interviews that could be seen on the mini-TVs in the clubhouse boxes, the crowd hummed with surprise. "This is not just for me, it's for all the Saudis and our great friends, the Americans," declared Prince Ahmed bin Salman, a Saudi royal who had purchased War Emblem just weeks before the Derby. "I am the first Arab to win it, by the way."

Prince Ahmed is the nephew of Saudi King Fahd. He owns several Arabic news outlets--some of which are less-than-supportive of the United States. And Prince Ahmed's family funds anti-American madrassas. As fellow horse breeder Jim Squires wrote about Ahmed in the New York Times: "Educated in California and owner of a horse farm there, the Prince is always careful to say in winner's circle interviews how much he likes America. Some fans wonder why his newspapers and magazines back home don't express the same opinions."

War Emblem not only won the Derby, but now has captured the Preakness, too. Tomorrow, he will run in the Belmont stakes hoping to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. That alone has much of the racing world backing the three-year-old. Throw in the fact that he has gone from unknown to near-legend in just eight weeks, and the groundswell of support should be huge.

But the prince? Asked his thoughts on winning the Derby some eight months after September 11, the prince took a pass. "I am a businessman, not a politician," he said. "I leave these questions to our politicians and your politicians. There are bad people everywhere. What has happened in the past has happened."

There is no disputing his last two assertions, of course. And one of the reasons so many turn to sports is to distract them from the harsh realities of day-to-day life, especially the worry--however faint--that with another attack, June 8 or June 9 or June 10 could become our new September 11. Couldn't Prince Ahmed muster something a little more sympathetic than "What has happened in the past has happened"?

The owners of Proud Citizen, the Derby runner-up who took third in the Preakness, have launched their own patriotic campaign, pledging $100,000 to the Twin Towers Fund, no matter where their horse finishes. The beautiful colt was photographed this week with a blanket emblazoned with the FDNY logo. It's great, of course, that the money will go to help the victims' families. But it smells like cheap PR. "The press is writing that everyone is rooting for War Emblem and another Triple Crown winner," said Proud Citizen owner Bob Baker, in an interview with the New York Times. "We think that what we've done in giving our share of the purse to the Twin Towers Fund will have a whole lot of other people rooting for Proud Citizen and it'll just help to add to the interest of the event."

The prince has made no such pledge, though a spokesman for his Thoroughbred Corporation hints that he, too, might be open to such a donation. But even more than that, should the prince and War Emblem be lucky enough to capture the elusive Triple Crown, how about a few words of condolence? The prince says he is not a politician. That's fine. Can't a businessman feel sorry, too?

Stephen F. Hayes is staff writer at The Weekly Standard.