Kentucky Derby Preview: Stud or Dud?

Everyone knows stories about couples who desperately tried to get pregnant and only succeeded after they stopped trying so desperately. Maybe that's what the owners of 2002 Kentucky Derby Winner War Emblem should try with the reluctant stud. For the last few years, he's shown no interest in horsing around. Since the Derby is this Saturday, I wonder if the owner of this year's winner will get luckier with a horse who enjoys getting lucky.

Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido Japan bought War Emblem for $17 million. The "New York Times" estimates that his owners have lost out on about $55 million dollars in stud fees because of the horse's lack of interest in the opposite sex. Personally, I think they're judging the big guy too harshly.

The horse is nine years old, and has mated with "only" seventy mares. I don't know how many horse years equal one human year, but no matter what the formula is, seventy mates is nothing to sneeze at. Maybe he just doesn't want any more children. As far as I'm concerned, it's hard enough to worry about just two kids.

The baffling thing for the owners of the stalled stallion is that he hasn't had a date in over two years. Nothing. Zippo. Nada. And they've tried their best. They've offered him all kinds of different mares -- old ones, young ones, and horses of different colors. Maybe it's time the owners joined the 21st century and tried to find War Emblem a mate online. Surely there must be a website called H-Date in which lonely horses seek company with other, uh, naysayers. (If there isn't such a website, there probably will be by the time you finish reading this column).

The latest thing the owners are trying is keeping him separated from the other stallions. The theory is that by having him spend time exclusively with the mares instead of the stallions, War Emblem will feel more secure in his sexuality. I'm not so sure that makes sense. If you don't let a guy hang out with other guys and if you insist that he spend all his time with women, do you really think he'll feel more manly?

Guys need other guys to talk to about women. Maybe male horses need to be around other male horses to confide in, to boast, or to gossip in whatever way horses do those things. Let's face it. A stallion can't exactly nudge the mare next to him and say, "Did you see the fetlocks on that new filly?"

The horses that War Emblem sired before he stopped being in the mood have done quite well. They've won races and they've earned lots of money for their owners. Isn't that enough? Haven't we evolved to the point that a male is no longer expected to "perform" whether he feels like it or not? How many more winners, how many more millions does this horse owe his owners? If he's not in the mood, should he be expected to fake it to make them happy?

By isolating him from the other stallions, the owners may feel that they are taking the pressure off War Emblem. However, I'm sure he picks up on their anxiety and wish for him to make more little War Emblems. It's like when a couple decides that they aren't going to talk about how hard it is for them to get pregnant. They go out to dinner and say, "Let's talk about any other subject." They may say that, but they know that they're still both thinking about getting pregnant.

So I think it's time for War Emblem's owners to relax. If he wants to be a dad again, he will be. If he doesn't, he won't. War Emblem is a living, breathing, unpredictable animal, not a machine. I understand that when they paid all those millions for him, they thought he'd churn out horse after horse after horse. But there's something appropriate in the fact that they may have gambled and lost just like most people do at the racetrack.

It certainly brings up one thing for this year's owners to keep in mind: the horse that runs the fastest just might also run the fastest when being chased by a horse who has romance on its mind.