Analysis: Overlook War of Will's speed figures in Louisiana Derby

March 20, 2019 10:46am
Analysis: Overlook War of Will's speed figures in Louisiana Derby
Photo: Hodges Photography
Top 3-year-old colt War of Will shows some surprisingly low speed figures on paper relative to his hype as a 2019 Kentucky Derby prospect. Unlike in some other instances, this is not a case of Beyer Speed Figures and TimeformUS ratings disagreeing, either, as neither scale paints the Mark Casse trainee as particularly fast in his last race.

Yet, War of Will is a heavy favorite in the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby on Saturday at Fair Grounds, where 11 horses are entered to run nine furlongs.

The winner will earn 100 Kentucky Derby 2019 qualifying points and the runner-up will pick up 40 points, making the first two positions likely automatic qualifiers for the big race.

With 60 points, War of Will technically doesn't even need to hit the board to proceed. Given that, trainer Mark Casse might not push him as hard to win this one. 

But is there a silver lining to the low speed figures? I believe so.

In War of Will’s last win, the Risen Star Stakes (G2), he earned a 92 Beyer Speed Figure and 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure. He finished the race in 1:44.59.

Three races earlier in the Mineshaft Handicap (G3), Silver Dust ran the same distance in 1:45.46, and he earned a 97 Beyer and 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure.

In most instances, if one horse runs faster than the other on the same card and distance, the horse with a faster final raw time earns the higher speed figure. This rule usually only changes if the track speeds up or slows down as the day goes on.

To offer an explanation though for why Silver Dust earned a higher number, TimeformUS Speed Figure Maker Craig Milkowski explained that “the Silver Dust race was such a crazy slow pace it was rated in isolation from the others.”

In all likelihood, the Beyer Speed Figure team tweaked the figure for the same reason.

But another interesting point from the Risen Star is that Dunph, who only earned a 94 TimeformUS Speed Figure after showing early speed and fading to 11th in the stretch, returned to run a 113 on the same scale when sixth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2).

Also, the three horses behind War of Will all closed from way off the pace. Runner-up Country House began the race in 12th, while Roiland and Hog Creek Hustle came from 14th and 13th. Meanwhile, War of Will worked to chase the leader Gun It from second.

When only one speed horse survives, it's a solid sign that the horse ran a quality race. TimeformUS marks the first two fractions in red as well, giving further indication War of Will did all the hard work up front, while those three closers took advantage late.

Minus the controversial speed figures from both Beyer and TimeformUS, most of the signs point in War of Will’s direction again for the Louisiana Derby. It is flat out difficult to avoid using him on your tickets, unless you think he's not fully tuned for this final prep. Even at 90 percent, War of Will could still probably beat this field.

If playing against War of Will, there are four solid upset candidates to choose from in Mr. Money, Sueno, Spinoff and Country House.

As with Dunph, Mr. Money showed speed in the Risen Star and faded late, eventually finishing seventh. The son of Goldencents actually worked himself into a perfect position on the far turn and took dead aim at War of Will at the top of the stretch. 

By that point though, he had nothing left to offer.

Mr. Money’s trainer, Bret Calhoun, had to play some catchup heading into the Risen Star, as the horse missed the Lecomte Stakes (G3) one month earlier due to a minor illness on race weekend. Back in November, Mr. Money finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after putting himself into a great position as well. 

Back in September, Mr. Money broke his maiden at Churchill in an 8.5-furlong race, the same distance as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Risen Star. This race is nine furlongs, but the pedigree says the extra 1/16 of a mile is fine. Most notably, Mr. Money's second damm O’ Toole, is a half-sister to 2009 Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed.

Mr. Money deserves one more chance, especially if he sticks to his 20-1 morning line. He is not better than War of Will on paper, but if that one folds, he could upset. 

Sueno ran a closing second in both the Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita and the Southwest Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn. Now he competes at Fair Grounds for trainer Keith Desormeaux, and he also picks up his third jockey of the year in Corey Lanerie.

If there is one noticeable habit in Lanerie’s riding style, it is that he loves staying on the rail, both on the far side and stretch run. Sometimes it works and results in masterful wins, and other times shooting inside gets him blocked in the stretch run.

With that riding tendency in mind, expect a ground-saving trip for Sueno. If the pace collapses, at least he will get first run, and if he stays close enough to the leaders and away from a crowded mid-pack, traffic issues should not pose a problem on the turn.

Sueno could win, and he also works as a reliable underneath type. 

Spinoff won an optional claiming race by more than 11 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs and earned a 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure, not too far behind War of Will's 110.

The field Spinoff defeated was not great, as the runner-up Cave Run is probably a mud specialist, and the rest of the field consisted of arguably claiming-level types.  

However, Spinoff looked good in victory under only mild encouragement from John Velazquez. Trainer Todd Pletcher is also no stranger to winning this race, taking it last year with Noble Indy, in 2013 with Revolutionary and in 2010 with Mission Impazible. Spinoff could move forward enough to give Pletcher another win, although he drew a poor outside post, and the Pace Projector puts him up front through a fast tempo. 

Country House rates slightly behind the above four horses, although he is still capable of winning. This horse breaks slowly every time, causing him to initially lose position.

But in only three dirt starts, Country House finished second to future Sam F. Davis (G3) runner-up Kentucky Wildcat at Aqueduct, won a Gulfstream maiden race after veering in at the start, and then finished second to War of Will in the Risen Star last month.

Late closers do not normally win this race, but International Star in 2015 and the aforementioned Revolutionary proved it is possible to settle in the back and win.

The rest of the field looks like minor players at best. 

War of Will is difficult to profit from, making Mr. Money, Sueno, Spinoff and Country House logical options to consider against or alongside the favorite. One idea is to key Sueno in the first and second slots in trifecta wheels with those four horses. 

If War of Will wins and the combination hits, it will pay off enough to cover the bet. In the event he throws a clunker and Sueno either wins or hits the Top 2 with those other alternatives, the trifecta will then pay off well, especially if Mr. Money fires.

Odds and value aside, though, War of Will seems good enough to handle adversity. He stands as the most likely winner, and it is tough to envision anything less than a Top 3 finish unless Casse's waiting until the first Saturday in May to fire his best shot.


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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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