Two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby, War Of Will was taken out of contention when Maximum Security switched lanes, caused interference and nearly caused a fall that might have had tragic consequences.
War of Will got the chance Saturday at Pimlico Race Course that he didn’t get at Churchill Downs. Under a patient ride by Tyler Gaffalione, War Of Will won the 144th running of the Preakness Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths.
“Right after the Derby … I felt joy and relief that [War Of Will] was OK and we didn’t have the worst disaster in horse racing history,” winning trainer Mark Casse said. “I was good the next day. I was out at the barn, smiling, happy talking to everybody.”
Casse was understandably emotional after winning the Preakness. Even though he has had a very successful career, including five Breeders’ Cup victories, he never trained a horse that won a Triple Crown race. It was his fifth try in the Preakness.
“I’m not even calling it redemption,” Casse said of the Preakness win. “You know what, I didn’t feel he got his fair shot” in the Derby “and that’s all I wanted, a fair shot. He showed what he had” Saturday.
Gaffalione also didn’t see it as payback for a compromised Derby trip.
“We were just focused on getting the horse to the winner’s circle,” Gaffalione said. “That’s the main thing and his safety, of course. But it wasn’t anything to do with redemption or trying to prove something. It was just the horse deserved it. He’s a very talented horse and we’re just very thankful he was able to prove it [Saturday].”
War Of Will broke alertly and settled just off the leaders in the 1 3/16ths mile race, the shortest in the Triple Crown. He started to make his move on the far turn and swept to a one-length lead entering the stretch. By mid-stretch all he had to do was outlast hard-charging Everlast, who beat Owendale by a nose for second.
War Of Will paid $14.20, $7.40 and $5.40. Everlast, who was 50-1 on the morning line but bet down to 29-1, paid $32.00 and $14.40 to place and show. Owendale paid $6.00 to show.
The race lost a lot of its luster when Derby winner Country House and disqualified Derby winner Maximum Security were not entered. Country House came down with a cough, according to trainer Bill Mott, and Maximum Security’s co-owner, Gary West, did not want to run the horse on two weeks of rest.
It was the first time since 1996, when Grindstone wasn’t entered because of bone chips in a knee, that the Derby winner did not run in Baltimore. It was also the first time since 1951 that none of the first four horses to cross the finish line did not race in the Preakness.
Favorite Improbable, the only Grade 1 stakes winner in the race, had his chances dashed when he acted up in the gate.
“When he did that in the gate, I knew that was it,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “His only weakness is he gets a little fired up. … When horses do that, it takes a lot of energy out. [Saturday] wasn’t his day but the winner was pretty impressive.”
Jockey Mike Smith didn’t give up on Improbable as quickly as Baffert.
“Actually, he broke well,” Smith said. “I had a really good trip and I thought maybe he was going to get on with it at the three-eighths pole and he just didn’t keep on [running].”
[Jockey Jose Ortiz “put him in the race and we were happy about that,” said Blaine Wright, Anothertwistafate’s trainer. “I’m glad we came and had an opportunity. Obviously, I’m a little disappointed with the result, but we’ll regroup and go from there.”
There was a scary moment at the start of the race when Bodexpress dumped rider John Velazquez out of the gate. The colt continued running on the outside of the pack but didn’t cause any interference. Velazquez was unhurt.
If War Of Will comes out of the race in good shape, Casse likely will take him to New York for the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.
“There will be a lot going through my mind and trying to figure out what’s the next step,” Casse said. “I would say, if all goes well, you know us, we like to run. We’ll probably be at Belmont.”
War Of Will has run 10 races, winning four of them, but none more important than Saturday’s. Now, he’s looking to become the 12th horse to win the last two legs of the Triple Crown after losing in the Derby.