'We deserve this'; War of Will's Preakness Stakes win a relief

May 12, 2019 10:59pm
Bob Baffert stood stoic, arms crossed, watching from the edge of the Pimlico Race Course turf track as the Preakness Stakes trophy presentation continued.

“You know, good for (War of Will),” he said. “Good race.”

Baffert and the rest of the racing world watched jockey Tyler Gaffalione, trainer Mark Casse and owner Gary Barber weather a difficult two weeks of debate coming out of the Kentucky Derby.

“Hey, everybody has their opinion on what happened, how it happened, why and all of that,” Gaffalione said. “You just got to put it aside, keep working hard, put your head down and get it done at the end.”

The 24-year-old rider put the drama of allegations by Maximum Security's camp that he caused the interference that led to a historic Derby disqualification -- what Casse now just calls "the incident" -- in the rearview.

War of Will hit the wire 1 1/4 lengths to the good after Gaffalione navigated the War Front colt down the rail leaving the turn and to a classic victory.

"We’ve all been through a lot, but we earned this," the jockey said. "We got this.”

“I didn't feel like he got his fair shot,” Casse said, looking back to the Derby, “and that's all I wanted: a fair shot. And he showed what he had today.''

The 3-year-old son of War Front hasn't had much easy in his career, taking five starts to break his maiden -- until he switched to the main track. Wide post positions greeted him in two Derby prep wins at Fair Grounds before the colt exited the Louisiana Derby (G2) with a muscle strain.

Then it was on to Churchill Downs for a controversial Kentucky Derby.

“Who knows where we would be right now if it all never happened?” Gaffalione asked. “You know, nothing has come easy for this horse, but he proved he belongs here. He proved he can race with these guys.

“It’s not always been the best for him, but we know what this horse is capable of. He’s special. We all know that. He got his chance to show it today."

Casse stopped short of calling this redemption. Certainly, there was validation.

It was the first Preakness Stakes score for the trainer, who was 0-for-5 in the second leg of the Triple Crown after a close call in 2017 with runner-up Classic Empire.

“Man, it’s so good to see him get this,” said Gaffalione, who entered Saturday with two Grade 1 victories. “All of us, we deserve this.”

The Davie, Fla., product Gaffalione, who comes from a racing family, “dreamed of this, just even riding in these races, ever since I was a little kid. Riding and winning. I’m at a loss for words.

“We had a farm in Florida and I used to ride my bike with a tree branch, whipping it like it was Smarty Jones.”

Hall of Famer Javier Castellano called Gaffalione "a great kid."

“It’s a shame, because he goes through all of that trouble in the Kentucky Derby, all of that controversy," Castellano said. "He proved that the horse belongs in the race. He showed it off. He got it done. Good for him. He deserves this.”

Next up: An even bigger stage, in New York and at the Belmont Stakes assuming War of Will exits the Preakness healthy. The emotions will be tough to top what happened Saturday at Pimlico.

“I mean, everything that has happened, how far we’ve come with this horse -- it took a team effort, and it just feels so good to see it all come together here, right now," Gaffalione said. "I’m really proud of this.”


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