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War of Will Exits Preakness in Good Order, Targets Belmont Stakes

by Maryland Jockey Club Press Release

May 19, 2019

BALTIMORE — Gary Barber’s War of Will exited his 1 ¼-length victory over the late-running Everfast in Saturday’s144th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course in good order and will run in the Belmont Stakes (G1) June 8 at Belmont Park if the colt continues to show all the right signs, trainer Mark Casse said Sunday morning.           

“I would say there’s an extremely good shot he’ll be there,” Casse said of the 1 ½-mile third leg of the Triple Crown. “Now it’s just a matter of him saying he doesn’t want to go, that would be if he was lethargic or something in training.

“There are only three Triple Crown races; they’re pretty important. I think if you can do it, you should do it,” he added. “The Belmont is the Belmont. It’s the third leg of the Triple Crown. Who doesn’t want to win it?”

War of Will, who gave Casse, Barber and jockey Tyler Gaffalione their first victories in a Triple Crown race, could be the only horse to run in all three spring classics for 3-year-olds. The son of War Front was at the center of the potentially catastrophic entanglement in the Kentucky Derby (G1) May 4 when first-place finisher Maximum Security came out into War of Will’s path. War of Will finished eighth and was moved up to seventh upon Maximum Security’s disqualification to 17th that awarded the victory to second-place finisher Country House.

“It would just show he’s tough and able to overcome things,” Casse said of War of Will should he compete in all three Triple Crown races. “We saw yesterday that the Derby was very, very trying. I was worried about that with him. He was a little foot sore afterwards.

“The pace was extremely hot [in the Preakness] and you saw two deep closers come [to be second and third]. I didn’t realize how deep. They were behind Bodexpress, [who continued to run after unseating jockey John Velazquez at the start]. For our horse to continue, he was pretty close to the pace and it was hot,” he added. “I liked the fact that after the race, when they were galloping out, he took off again. He was not going to let them go by.”

Of the race, Casse said, “I knew we were doing well and I liked where we were. About maybe the three-eighths pole, I started thinking, ‘Oh, dear, not again,’ because he was wanting to go somewhere and he had nowhere to go. I didn’t get excited until it opened up. I was hoping the leader would come off the rail a little bit. And when he did, Tyler snuck up in there a little bit. I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. But NBC had a camera on me and we gave them a lot to see, I can promise you that.”

Casse reflected on growing up on a farm in Indiana when “Sundays were awful, because there was no Daily Racing Form. The Racing Forms were delivered to our farm, and everybody would drive from other places and pick them up. You know how a dog waits for its owner to come? I would sit and I would wait for the car to bring the Racing Form. Then I’d run over and read it from top to bottom – and how could you not know about the Preakness? I didn’t even let that bother me about the Derby horse (Maximum Security or adjudged winner Country House) not being here and this and that. It’s the Preakness. And we can now say we won it.”

The trainer said his phone was blowing up with congratulatory messages.

“Between texts and emails, I had more than 400, and I always answer everybody,” he said. “I’ve only answered about 250 so far, so I’m still working on that. And I got a very nice email from Gary West,” the owner Maximum Security, “which was very nice, congratulating Gary (Barber) and I."

Casse reiterated his post-Derby sentiments that it was fortunate that a horse as athletic as War of Will was the one who nearly clipped heels with Maximum Security because a less agile horse might have fallen.

“We should be thankful,” he said. “I’m not sure everybody would have survived that, the bumping and the contact. But he’s very athletic.”

Casse had planned to ship out War of Will Sunday morning, but changed it to Monday morning. He will go to Keeneland, where Casse’s division is overseen by assistant trainer David Carroll, who also had War of Will all winter at the Fair Grounds.

War of Will won the Fair Grounds’ Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) before finishing ninth in the Louisiana Derby, a race in which he lost his action shortly after the break and never was a threat. But Casse and his team never lost confidence in the War Front colt, who earned $990,000 and now has made $1,491,569 off a 4-1-1 record in 10 starts.