by Jon White
February 21, 2019
Did a superstar win last Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes?
To be perfectly candid, I would not call Risen Star winner War of Will a superstar. Not yet.
Among recent Thoroughbreds, who would I call a superstar? My list would include Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, Wise Dan, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Arrogate, Beholder, Gun Runner and Justify. Do I think War of Will belongs in that group? Not at this point.
But there is plenty of time for War of Will to prove to me that he is indeed a superstar. It does seem he has that kind of potential. After all, so far he has been unbeatable when racing on the dirt. He’s now three for three when competing on the dirt after going winless in the first four starts of his career when racing on the grass.
There is one person who is calling War of Will a superstar. It’s the colt’s trainer, Mark Casse. And to War of Will’s credit, he certainly keeps doing his very best to live up to his trainer’s high praise.
One reason I believe the day may come when I will feel that War of Will deserves to be put into the superstar category is my tremendous respect for Casse. When a trainer with such an impressive resume as Casse’s says War of Will is a superstar, it suggests to me that it just might turn out to be so.
Casse, a member of the Canadian Hall of Fame, has made it onto this country’s Hall of Fame ballot again this year after appearing on it in 2017 and 2018. The 58-year-old Casse has trained Eclipse Award winners Tepin, Classic Empire, World Approval and Shamrock Rose. So this is a trainer who is quite familiar with outstanding equine athletes.
Earlier this year on Jan. 29, War of Will collaborated with jockey Tyler Gaffalione to win the Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots. The Kentucky-bred son of War Front won by four lengths and defeated 11 opponents when racing one mile and 70 yards on that occasion.
“He’s an absolute superstar,” Casse said of War of Will after the Lecomte.
War of Will then took last Saturday’s Grade II Risen Star on the same track last Saturday in dominating fashion while polishing off 13 foes. After the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star, Casse said this: “I’ve been fortunate to train a lot of good horses. He’s one of the best. I think he’s a superstar.”
Whether or not you agree with Casse that War of Will is a superstar, the attractive bay colt managed to win the Risen Star despite breaking from post 13. Before the race, Casse had said of the unenviable post position, “If he’s as good as we think he is, it shouldn’t matter.”
It didn’t matter.
Casse and Gaffalione understandably did not want War of Will to get fanned wide into the first turn. They achieved that goal. After War of Will exited the gate in fine fashion, Gaffalione utilized the colt’s tactical zip to quickly secure a forward position. War of Will entered the first turn while racing in the two path.
Because War of Will began from post 13, “Tyler had to hit the gas pedal a little hard early,” Casse said, noting that it did get the colt a little cranked up. Indeed, War of Will was fairly headstrong in the early stages, though it was not as if he became rank or difficult to handle.
War of Will readily wrested the lead away from pacesetter Gun It on the far turn. By the time War of Will reached the eighth pole, he had opened a 2 1/2-length advantage. He went on to prevail by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:44.59 as the even-money favorite. War of Will also galloped out strongly after the finish. The fractions were :23.71, :47.36, 1:12.20 and 1:37.87.
In Jay Privman’s analysis of the race for the Daily Racing Form, he noted that War of Will “ran well in a race whose shape benefitted late runners. The second-, third- and fourth-place finishers were 12th, 13th and 14th in the 14-horse field early, and of the three leaders, War of Will finished first while the other two wound up 11th and 12th.”
Country House, a Florida shipper trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, rallied from 12th to finish second at 6-1. Roiland, last early at odds of 69-1, came in third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Country House.
I wrote this last week: “Country House, listed at 20-1 on the Risen Star morning line, intrigues me as someone who looks capable of making his presence felt.”
Though Country House did finish second in the Risen Star, it was far from a smooth ride for jockey Luis Saez. The Kentucky-bred Lookin At Lucky colt was lugging in during the stretch run. As I watched Country House lug in, it brought back memories of Gate Dancer.
Back in the 1980s, Gate Dancer became infamous for lugging in. The Jack Van Berg-trained colt also is remembered for racing with earmuffs.
During the stretch run of the 1984 Kentucky Derby, Gate Dancer lugged in and repeatedly bumped Fali Time hard. Poor little Fali Time got mugged that day. Gate Dancer finished fourth, then was disqualified and placed fifth, behind Fali Time. Gate Dancer has the dubious distinction of being the only horse ever disqualified for a race foul in the 144-year history of the Kentucky Derby.
After the 1984 Kentucky Derby, Gate Dancer did go on to win the Preakness Stakes two weeks later. However, as a result of once again lugging in, Gate Dancer was disqualified in another big race the following year. After Gate Dancer finished second in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park in 1984, he was disqualified and placed third for “causing severe interference in the final sixteenth,” as stated in the official Daily Racing Form chart.
THIS WEEK’S KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
In the wake of War of Will’s Risen Star triumph, he moves up to No. 3 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list after being No. 5 last week.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Game Winner
3. War of Will
5. Hidden Scroll
8. Mucho Gusto
9. Omaha Beach
Galilean is a newcomer to my Top 10. He won Monday’s California Cup Derby comfortably by 4 1/2 lengths as an overwhelming 1-20 favorite with Flavian Prat in the saddle.
“Galilean and Flavien Prat waltz home,” was how Santa Anita track announcer Frank Mirahmadi accurately put it during his race call.
Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Galilean is a California-bred Uncle Mo colt. Uncle Mo was voted a 2010 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
Can a Cal Cup Derby winner go on to capture the Kentucky Derby? Yes. California Chrome won both races in 2014 while on his way to being voted Eclipse Awards that season as champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year. California Chrome received two more Eclipse Awards in 2016 as older dirt male and Horse of the Year.
A $600,000 auction purchase, Galilean has three wins and a second from four career starts. All four of his races have been in restricted races, but he is expected to compete in a graded stakes race next time to try and earn Kentucky Derby points. Galilean has zero points at this time.
Galilean’s Cal Cup Derby win produced a Beyer Speed Figure of 84. When California Chrome won the Cal Cup Derby, he received an 88 Beyer Speed Figure. California Chrome then recorded a 108 Beyer in his next start when victorious in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes before going on to win the Santa Ania Derby (107 Beyer), Kentucky Derby (97 Beyer) and Preakness Stakes (105 Beyer).
To make room for Galilean on my Top 10, I reluctantly dropped Vekoma. Undefeated in two starts and winner of last year’s Grade III Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct, Vekoma is to make his first 2019 start in Gulfstream Park’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 2. Vekoma certainly has the opportunity to earn his way back onto my Top 10 if he wins or runs well in defeat in the Fountain of Youth.
I nearly dropped No. 6 Mucho instead of Vekoma off my Top 10 this week. Mucho had been on a regular workout regimen for Mott at Payson Park in Florida, but then there was a gap. After recording workouts on Jan. 6, Jan. 13, Jan. 21, Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, Mucho did not work again until this week on Tuesday, Feb. 19. But not only did Mucho have a workout Tuesday, he stepped four furlongs in a brisk :48.00, a sharp drill that kept him on this week’s Top 10. Privman reported Mucho will make his 3-year-old debut “in March,” according to Mott.
Mott also trains No. 5 Hidden Scroll, who registered a 14-length win at 8-1 when he kicked off his racing career vs. maidens in a one-mile race on a sloppy track Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park. The Kentucky-bred Hard Spun colt worked four furlongs at Payson Park in :49.80 on Feb. 8 and the same distance in :50.00 on the same surface Feb. 15. Hidden Scroll makes his next start in the Fountain of Youth.
Speaking of Hard Spun (runner-up to Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby), his trainer, Larry Jones, pulled off a gigantic upset with Super Steed in Oaklawn Park’s Grade III Southwest Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Monday.
Ninth early in what was a roughly run race, Super Steed passed rivals with a rush while quite wide on the far turn and won by three-quarters of a length after having opened up a three-length lead with a furlong to go. Super Steed’s rider, Terry Thompson, dropped his whip in the vicinity of the eighth pole, a detail not included in the original Equibase chart.
Sueno, an improving Southern California invader, came home willingly in the Southwest after being boxed in on the far turn. He finished second at 7-1. Long Range Toddy, also sent off at 7-1, ended up third in the field of 11. Cutting Humor, the 2-1 favorite, came in seventh. Gray Attempt finished last at 7-2 in the field of 11 after showing early speed.
Super Steed paid a whopping $126.60 for each $2 win ticket. He is a Kentucky-bred son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and the Elusive Quality mare Totally Tucker. Elusive Quality sired 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones.
War of Will and Super Steed both were victorious on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs last Nov. 24. War of Will, racing on dirt for the first time that day, won a maiden race at 1 1/16 miles by five lengths in 1:45.45. Earlier that day, Super Steed won a 6 1/2-furlong allowance/optional claiming contest by six lengths in 1:17.34. On that same card, Signalman captured the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes by a neck in 1:45.29 while making his final start at 2. Signalman is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in either the Fountain of Youth or Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 9.
The Risen Star offered 50-20-10-5 qualifying points for the May 4 Kentucky Derby. War of Will now has accrued a total of 60 points to move to the top of the leaderboard. His 60 points has secured a berth in the Kentucky Derby field.
Game Winner, ranked No. 1 on my Top 10, is second on the leaderboard with 30 Kentucky Derby points. He continues gearing up for his 2019 debut, as is No. 2 Improbable. They both reside in the powerful Bob Baffert barn at Santa Anita.
Privman broke the surprising news that Baffert said Tuesday “there is a very good chance” Game Winner and Improbable could run against each other in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 9. The expectation had been that one of them would run in the San Felipe, while the other one would go to Oaklawn Park for the Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 16.
“I have a feeling they’ll both be in there,” Baffert said of the San Felipe. “It might be Clemson versus Alabama.”
Baffert explained to Privman that the main reason both Game Winner and Improbable could end up in the San Felipe is a reluctance to make one of them ship twice before going to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.
“If both run in the San Felipe, one could run back in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, and the other could go to the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 13,” Privman wrote. “But if one goes to the Rebel at Oaklawn on March 16, that horse would have to be wheeled back on short rest to run in the Santa Anita Derby and avoid a second trip to Oaklawn.”
Baffert went on to say that the Rebel and the Sunland Derby on March 14 are under consideration for another of his Kentucky Derby candidates, Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Mucho Gusto.
Game Winner recorded a sharp seven-furlong workout Tuesday at Santa Anita in 1:25.00. The following day at the Great Race Place, Improbable had a six-furlong workout timed in 1:13.20, while Mucho Gusto worked four furlongs in a brisk :47.60.
Monday’s Southwest had 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points up for grabs, as did last Saturday’s El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate. Anothertwistafate, the 6-5 favorite, won the El Camino Real Derby with authority by seven lengths for trainer Blaine Wright. Finishing second at 9-5 was the Baffert-trained SoCal shipper Kingly. More Ice ended up third at 10-1 in the field of 11.
Anothertwistafate now has three victories from four career starts. All three of his wins have come on Golden Gate’s synthetic surface by a combined 16 lengths. A $360,000 auction purchase, Anothertwistafate is a son of Scat Daddy, sire of 2018 Horse of the Year Justify.
Prior to Anothertwistafate’s three-race winning streak at Golden Gate, he had finished ninth in a six-furlong maiden special weight race on the dirt at Santa Anita last Nov. 3. It will be interesting to see what Anothertwistafate does the next time he competes on the dirt.
War of Will’s Risen Star performance produced a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, down from his 94 in the Lecomte. Super Steed was credited with an 87 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Southwest. Anothertwistafate recorded a career-best 94 Beyer for his victory in the El Camino Real Derby.
RAGS TO RICHES ON HALL OF FAME BALLOT (FINALLY)
Hallelujah! It has finally happened. Rags to Riches, one of just four fillies to have won a Triple Crown race in the last 95 years, is on the Hall of Fame ballot this year for the first time despite being eligible since 2013.
Rags to Riches in 2007 became the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years. She one of five racehorses, three trainers and one jockey that account for the nine finalists on the 2019 Hall of Fame ballot.
The 2019 finalists are:
Jockey: Craig Perret
Trainers: Mark Casse, Christophe Clement and David Whiteley
Racehorses: Blind Luck, Gio Ponti, Havre de Grace, Rags to Riches and Royal Delta.
The 2019 finalists were selected by the Hall of Fame’s 16-member nominating committee. To get onto the ballot, a candidate had to receive support from at least 11 of the nominating committee members. This year’s nine finalists were selected from a total of 93 candidates that had been suggested to the nominating committee.
Ballots will be mailed to the entire voting panel on March 1. The inductees will be announced on April 22. Also on April 22, the Hall of Fame will announce inductees chosen by the Historical Review committee and this year’s Pillars of the Turf. The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held on Aug. 2 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where the Hall of Fame is located.
Hall of Fame voters this year may select as many candidates as they believe are worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame. All candidates that receive majority approval (50.1% or higher) will be elected. The former rule capping the number of inductees at four, which I had strongly criticized, was eliminated in 2018.
Capping the number of inductees at four meant the candidates on the ballot had to compete against each other to secure one of the four slots. That was ridiculous. No longer capping the number of inductees at four is much better inasmuch as a candidate either belongs in the Hall of Fame or does not. Who else is on the ballot should not matter.
Also for many years the Hall of Fame permitted only one male horse, one female horse, one jockey and one trainer to be inducted each year. That too was ridiculous and something I also strongly criticized. The Hall of Fame did away with that restriction beginning in 2010. Thank goodness. By doing away with that restriction, female superstars Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both were able to enter the Hall of Fame in 2016, the first year they were eligible.
Can you imagine if only one or the other, Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta, would have been allowed to go into the Hall of Fame in 2016? It would have been preposterous to keep either of them out of the Hall of Fame that year.
Now that Rags to Riches finally has made it onto the ballot, will she get enough support to enter the Hall of Fame? The biggest knock on her seems to be that she made only seven career starts. But Hall of Fame voters need to realize that racing in this country has changed dramatically in that horses generally used to make many more starts than they do these days. A lack of longevity likely is an issue Hall of Fame voters increasingly will have to grapple with in the years to come.
Undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify will become eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2024. Justify made only six lifetime starts, one fewer than Rags to Riches. Even though Justify raced just six times, is he not a slam-dunk to go into the Hall of Fame in 2024? And if voters are willing put Justify into the Hall of Fame with just six lifetime starts, is it fair to hold it against Rags to Riches that she made only seven lifetime starts?
When Rags to Riches won the 2007 Belmont Stakes, she did so despite stumbling at the start and racing wide. Finishing second was Curlin, who would be voted Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008. Curlin was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
The four fillies to have succeeded in a Triple Crown race in the last 95 years are Genuine Risk (who won the 1980 Kentucky Derby), Winning Colors (1988 Kentucky Derby), Rags to Riches (2007 Belmont Stakes) and Rachel Alexandra (2009 Preakness).
Genuine Risk, Winning Colors and Rachel Alexandra are in the Hall of Fame. All three certainly deserve it. And my belief is that Rags to Riches also richly deserves enshrinement.
It has been said by some that a horse is more worthy of getting into the Hall of Fame from his or her body of work rather than a major achievement. But Hall of Fame voters who subscribe to that belief need to keep in mind that even though Rags to Riches is best known for her historic achievement of winning the Belmont Stakes, her body of work is such that in her seven lifetime starts she won more Grade I races than Hall of Fame members Genuine Risk and Winning Colors.
The number of Grade I victories by the four fillies to have won a Triple Crown race in the last 95 years is listed below:
5 Rachel Alexandra
4 Rags to Riches
3 Winning Colors
2 Genuine Risk
WINX EXTENDS HER LONG WINNING STREAK
Winx won again. Well, of course she did.
Making her first 2019 start, the amazing Australian mare rallied to win last Saturday’s Group II Apollo Stakes at Randwick. It was her 30th consecutive victory.
Showing no signs of slowing down at the age of 7, Winx won the Apollo by two lengths. Her final time of 1:20.88 broke Randwick’s record for 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs) that had been held by Trapeze Artist. In fact, Winx’s 1:20.88 clocking was the fastest she has ever posted in a 1,400-meter race.
Winx reportedly will race three more times this year before being retired. She is expected to make her next start in the Group I Chipping Norton Stakes on March 2, followed by the Group I George Ryder Stakes on March 23, then the Group I Queen Elizabeth Stakes on April 13.
If you are wondering if Winx’s 30 straight wins is a world record, it is not. The longest winning streak in the history of Thoroughbred racing is held by Camarero, who won 56 straight in Puerto Rico from April 1953 to August 1955. Camarero, who became Puerto Rico’s first Triple Crown winner in 1954, was victorious in 73 of 76 career starts.
Kincsem, foaled in 1874, holds the record of 54 consecutive victories by a female Thoroughbred. Kincsem, who never lost, raced in Austria, England, France, Germany, Poland and Romania in addition to her native Hungary. She won 10 races as a 2-year-old, 17 as a 3-year-old, 15 as a 4-year-old and 12 as a 5-year-old. Kincsem was victorious at distances ranging from a half-mile to 2 5/8 miles.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. City of Light (33)
2. Monomoy Girl (3)
3. Roy H
4. Battle of Midway
5. Bricks and Mortar
8. Seeking the Soul
10. Marley’s Freedom
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. Game Winner (20)
2. War of Will (5)
3. Improbable (2)
4. Mucho Gusto
6. Hidden Scroll
7. Gunmetal Gray
10. Harvey Wallbanger