Three days later, a new acquisition for trainer Gary Barber, the stakes winner Our Braintrust, posted his first work at the Casse Training Center in Florida, breezing a half mile in 49 seconds.
"I really like him,” Casse recently told the NYRA Press Office. “I’ve trained a few Freuds, and some of them tend to be on the more compact side, but with this horse he has a little more length to him. So far, he's been a wonderful horse to be around.”
Formerly trained and co-owned by Cathal Lynch, broke his maiden on debut and won Belmont Park’s Tremont Stakes at second asking. He has finished a runner-up in both starts since, including a second to Mind Control in the Jan. 1 Jerome Stakes.
"We thought his race in the Jerome was very good, and we're always looking for prospects," Casse said.
With that one-turn mile so far Our Braintrust’s longest race, Casse’s looking to stretch out the former $25,000 yearling purchase in the Feb. 2 Withers Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles.
"You never know until you try, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some reservations about it,” said Casse, who also plans to send Woodbine stakes winner Sir Winston in the Withers. “But we're going to give it a try and hope for the best.”
As for War of Will, the four-length Lecomte Stakes (G3) victor, “He's doing extremely well,” Casse added. “I can't say enough great things about him, and I think he's an absolute superstar.”
War of Will has remained at Fair Grounds since last weekend’s win and will point to the Feb. 16 Risen Star (G2). After opening his career with four straight defeats on turf — while running twice in Grade 1 company — the son of War Front has gone 2-for-2 on the main track.
"I think he's a better dirt horse, although with a better trip in the Breeders' Cup he could have been a Breeders' Cup winner," Casse said. "But it was probably a blessing because had he won the Breeders' Cup, it would have been much tougher to try him on the dirt. Sometimes things happen for a reason.”
The surprise at Thursday evening’s Eclipse Awards ceremony wasn’t that Game Winner earned his title as Champion Two-Year-Old Male — but that it wasn’t unanimous for the unbeaten colt who’s also the Derby favorite.
Bulletin (1) and Knicks Go (1) also received first-place votes. While the former is also a Breeders’ Cup winner of the Turf Sprint, that race wasn’t even graded this year. And as for Knicks Go, well, Game Winner beat him straight up, and then he finished out of the money in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2).
Trainer Bob Baffert had this to say about Game Winner’s award: “It’s every exciting to see a 2-year-old go undefeated and be named champion, especially one as well-bred and beautiful as Game Winner. I was so proud of that big dude when he started pouring it on in the stretch at Churchill Downs.
“This sport is built on dreams, and he’s given us all a reminder of why we love racing. He’s got speed, endurance and all the makings of a superstar. I couldn’t be happier for Gary and Mary West and their team. There’s no better feeling as a trainer than to see an owner’s passion and commitment to the sport rewarded with a great horse.”
Game Winner is pointing to the March 9 San Felipe (G2) for his 3-year-old debut.
Following Friday afternoon’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, we’ll begin looking further ahead to next weekend offering three Derby points preps -- each paying points on the 10-4-2-1 scale to the Top 4 finishers. We’ve determined some runners via Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker, which we’ll continually update until entries are finalized.
• Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3)
• Withers Stakes (G3)
• Holy Bull Stakes (G2)