'Tough' Travers Stakes decision awaits War of Will's camp

July 30, 2019 09:20am

War of Will seemed in a good spot Saturday in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). 

The 3-year-old son of War Front broke alertly, moved forward into an uncontested lead and set easy fractions, going three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.43.

With three furlongs left in the Saratoga's top local Travers Stakes (G1) prep, Gary Barber’s Preakness Stakes winner looked poised for a big finish.

But Tax passed War of Will heading into the stretch. Then came Tacitus, then Global Campaign and then, just at the wire, Laughing Fox.

War of Will came home ahead of only 16-1 longshot Mihos in the field of six.

Two days after that result, trainer Mark Casse was still scratching his head Monday when asked about War of Will’s fifth-place Jim Dandy finish, five lengths back of winner Tax.

“I thought he broke well,” Casse said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better position. He did find himself doing something he’s never done before, and that was being on the lead. But, you know, it’s sure hard to make that as an excuse.
 

“I thought he trained great up to the race. I thought he did everything right. He just didn’t come with his 'A' game. We really don’t have any excuses.”



As Casse noted, going to the lead was a new tactic for War of Will. In each of his three wins this season – Pimlico’s Preakness and Fair Grounds’ Risen Star (G2) and Lecomte (G3) – the colt rated behind early pace setters, then moved forward in the far turn.

War of Will and jockey Tyler Gaffalione infamously also employed that same strategy in the Kentucky Derby. That day, a drifting Maximum Security slowed their charge.

Casse said he expected War of Will to again be near the front in the Jim Dandy. Global Campaign’s prior form suggested he’d set the pace, but when he settled Saturday in mid-pack, it was War of Will who instead grabbed the lead.

“The pace was very slow, so I felt comfortable on the lead,” Casse said. The only thing I will say… he seems to run better when he has a bit of a target. I’ve seen him in the past make the lead and kind of pull himself up. (Gaffalione) said he was running very easy. Those horses ran by him and he never engaged again. …

“I mean, who knows. I really have no excuse.”

Connections originally hoped War of Will, the only 3-year-old who contested each race of the 2019 Triple Crown series, could use the Jim Dandy as a springboard to the $1.25 million Travers Stakes. Saratoga’s 1 ¼-mile Mid-Summer Derby runs Aug. 24.

Now Casse said “there’s a chance” War of Will’s team skips the Travers and trains toward the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1), set for Sept. 21 at Parx Racing.

“The problem there is he trained as good as he could train into the Jim Dandy,” Casse said. “So I would find it very hard for him to train any better. So it makes it a tough decision.
 

“Do you just say, ‘Hey, he didn’t run his best race and let’s give it another try?’ Hopefully the Travers would be a bigger field. More than likely, there’ll be some pace for him to sit behind.
 

“I’ve had this discussion with Gary. We’re just going to kind of wait and see, look at our options.”

2019 Travers Stakes (G1)

 

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