Will the Preakness Stakes pace heat up? Draw 'forces our hand'

May 16, 2019 10:01am

A bit of bad luck followed trainer Mark Casse and his colt, War of Will, from Louisville to Baltimore.

After drawing the dreaded inside post position for the Kentucky Derby, the son of War Front will break from the rail again in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, with the No. 1 post’s high-profile occupant the biggest question mark exiting the draw.

“I don’t think the ‘1’ hole is quite as tough here,” Casse said, in relation to the Derby, “but I’m going to have to go study that. I didn’t study it on purpose because I was hoping not to get it.”

At first glance, Bourbon War is just to War of Will’s outside. He doesn’t show nearly as much gate speed.

“We think he'll be more tractable with the blinkers on and just fall in behind the pace and save some ground,” said trainer Mark Hennig.

From the No. 3 post, however, Warrior’s Charge could set some fractions.

“He did draw closer than I’d like. It kind of forces our hand maybe just a little bit,” said trainer Brad Cox. “But we’ll see what happens. It’s a long run to the first turn. Ultimately, I do feel the fastest horse will get the lead, and our horse is naturally fast.”

Casse returned to Pimlico on Thursday morning with a game plan.

"Hopefully he breaks well," the trainer said. "And if he breaks well and he’s on the lead, so be it. But we’re not going to drive him away from there. We’re going to try to let him settle. We kind of rode him away from there [in the Derby]. We thought we needed to, and it got him a little fired up in the middle part of the race. Tyler [Gaffalione] did a tremendous job of keeping him under control, but I’d still like to see him relax a little better. I will say, Tyler is an extremely strong rider, and he needed to be. Because WOW was wanting to go, no question about that.

“So we’ll probably try to let him relax a little bit more early and see. I still believe that puts him fairly close to the pace, if not on it. The break will play a big role…. There’s a lot less pressure to be so close. If you don’t come away running in the Kentucky Derby, everybody is going to come down on top of you. I don’t think that’s going to happen here.”

War of Will more than answered questions of talent and fitness exiting a ninth-place run in the Louisiana Derby (G2), in which he suffered a mild injury strides from the gate. In two other starts this year, he won Fair Grounds’ Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2).

The former turf runner — who has emerged as a leader in this crop since switching surfaces — is the Preakness’ 5-2 morning line second choice to 5-2 favorite Improbable.

“I think he’s doing as well as Classic Empire,” Casse said, likening War of Will to the narrow 2017 Preakness runner-up. "This horse has a lot of energy and he’s extremely tough.”

Casse said Gaffalione, aboard for each of War of Will’s dirt starts, “is going to have to play the break and see how it works.” From the No. 4 post, Improbable may finally sit closer under new pilot Mike Smith -- "w
e’ve got a few days to talk about things," Bob Baffert said -- while Alwaysmining (No. 7) and Anothertwistafate (No. 12) are known for their speed.

“We’re happy,” said Kelly Rubley, who conditions Alwaysmining. “It looks like there is a little bit of speed in this race, so we’ll have to see how we break and take it from there.

“Maybe he can keep his face clean from out there,” said Anothertwistafate trainer Blaine Wright. “Maybe our jockey can adapt to things that are happening in front of him. If we have the lead, well, hey, we have the lead.”

“We have to play the hand we we’re dealt,” Casse added. “You never can tell how things can go. All we can hope for is a clean trip and I think if he can get that, he’s going to be tough to beat.”


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