Kentucky Derby 2019 Daily: War of Will staying at Fair Grounds

January 21, 2019 09:58am
Kentucky Derby 2019 Daily: War of Will staying at Fair Grounds
Photo: Hodges Photography

Welcome to Horse Racing Nation’s Kentucky Derby Daily, which will each day leading up to the May 4 race at Churchill Downs detail all the news and notes related to contenders in one convenient space.

About a month ago, trainer Mark Casse said, he told a group of friends, “We have a big chance to win the Derby this year.” Casse tends to talk up horses’ morning training, but to call his shot about a specific race?

“I don’t usually say things like that,” he said, “so that tells you what I think of him.”

Him, being War of Will, whose 94 Beyer Speed Figure earned in a victory Saturday in the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes puts him right in line with other recent prep winners at Fair Grounds. Leading up to the 2018 Derby race, the numbers were: Instilled Regard (92 in the Lecomte), Bravazo (93 in the Risen Star) and Noble Indy (95 in the Louisiana Derby).

All three of those horses went on to run the first Saturday in May, and connections confirmed with Fair Grounds publicity on Sunday they intend to keep War of Will in New Orleans leading up to the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Casse said the Feb. 16 Risen Star (G2) “would make the most sense” as the War Front colt’s next race spot.

“It’s why we’re here,” he said, with top assistant David Carroll overseeing the Louisiana string. “We love this place, and it’s a great place to get a horse ready. I don’t know that there would be a real reason to leave.”

"He came out of the race beautifully,” Carroll added Sunday. “He cooled out very well. He’s always been a clear winded horse. He cleaned up his feed and was bright and full of energy this morning so were very, very happy.”

Gary Barber campaigns War of Will, a $298,550 auction purchase as a 2-year-old last May. The colt breezed before the sale on turf, and he built a solid foundation on the grass to open his career with four races over the green

Exiting a fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, War of Will made the surface switch on Nov. 24. One race after Signalman captured the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) going 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.29 at Churchill Downs, War of Will went the same distance in 1:45.45 — but while hand ridden past the wire in an easy victory in the slop.

A four-length Lecomte score despite an outside trip left Casse with more high praise for War of WIll, saying, “I have just the utmost respect for this horse. I think he has the potential to be a real superstar.”

 Casse in the Derby (6: 0-0-0)
 2006 Seaside Retreat 10th
 2012 Prospective 18th
 2015 Danzig Moon 5th
 2017 Classic Empire 4th
 2017 State of Honor 19th
 2018 Flameaway 13th

How’s that affect your list?

War of Will’s Lecomte victory made him one of seven horses with 10 Derby qualifying points this season. Only Game Winner (30), Knicks go (18), Signalman (18) and Gunmetal Gray (14) — each Breeders’ Cup Juvenile participants — have earned more.

Going back to a pre-race conversation with Joe Kristufek, Fair Grounds’ racing analyst, his thoughts are worth sharing in regards to the Derby lists that pop up this time of year.

“It’s too early for my personal handicapping purposes of horses on the road,” Kristufek said. “If I were to make a Top 10 list right now, you might see three or four of them that make the Derby, and one or two are horses who when they get to the Derby that I actually like. There’s just so much that’s going to happen between now and then.”

From a handicapping perspective, Kristufek says, he usually waits until the week after February’s first preps — the Withers (G3), Holy Bull (G2) and Robert B. Lewis (G3) each run Feb. 2 — to begin drawing long-range conclusions.

“My list right now is based on what I’ve seen potential-wise, not based on credentials,” Kristufek said. “I love Instagrand. What has he had, three or four works? He’s just starting to get cranked up again. This time last year, we didn’t even know who Justify was. I just think trainers are kind of approaching this whole thing differently than they have in years past.”

Kristufek’s Top 10 at last updated before the Lecomte:

1. Tale of the Union
2. Instagrand

3. Game Winner

4. Improbable

5. Maximus Mischief

6. Magic On Tap

7. Vekoma

8. Coliseum

9. Signalman

10. Code of Honor

Derby Radar

Saturday’s races gave us two horses other than War of Will to keep an eye on moving forward:

 First, Win Win Win won Tampa Bay Downs’ Pasco Stakes in record fashion, with the victory putting him in line to try two turns in the Sam F. Davis (G3) next month.

 Later, trainer Bob Baffert unveiled Dessman, a son of Union Rags, in maiden special weight company at Santa Anita Park. He’s another to watch moving forward.

The works

Coliseum — Appropriately, this one worked five furlongs from the gate following his troubled break when defeated as the Sham Stakes (G3) favorite on Jan. 5. The Tapit colt clocked in at 1:00.80.

Game Winner — Weather delayed his return to the work tab at Santa Anita, where on Sunday he breezed four furlongs in 48.60 seconds toward a likely start in the San Felipe (G2).

Gunmetal Gray — The Sham Stakes winner’s first breeze back Sunday measured 5/8 of a mile in an easy 1:02.80 at Santa Anita. Next race plans could mean a run in the Robert B. Lewis.

Improbable — He’s coming around quickly with his third drill of the new year a fast one, getting four furlongs in 48 seconds Sunday morning.

Instagrand — Un-raced since August, he’s building a foundation with a fourth work in as many weeks. Sunday’s half mile went in 47.60 seconds.

So Alive — Having beaten winners Jan. 6, this Todd Pletcher runner is pointing toward the Sam F. Davis. He remained on track Saturday with a four-furlong breeze in 48.85 at Palm Beach Downs.

Vekoma — The unbeaten Nashua (G3) winner continued his return Saturday with 4/8 in 49.87 at Palm Beach Downs toward a race in February or early March to be determined. 

In case you missed it…

Saturday’s Derby Daily report included an update on Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s trio of 3-year-olds who could hit the trail this spring.


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Horse Racing Nation's Kentucky Derby daily blog counts down to the May 4, 2019, race at Churchill Downs with a once-a-day update on all things Derby. Get the latest news and chatter, workout reports and a look at fields for upcoming preps all in once place.

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