by Teresa Genaro
A look at War Story’s past performances reveals a horse that has danced a lot of graded stakes dances, beginning early in his three-year-old year. Competitive in many, outclassed in others, he took on the best horses in training, shying from no one, in 13 graded stakes attempts, including the $12 million Pegasus Cup, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and $1 million Pacific Classic.
But the five-year-old gelding that shipped around the country, running at more than a dozen tracks, never quite made it to the winner’s circle of a graded race…until today, doing two things he’d never done before: running at Belmont Park, and running 1 1/2 miles in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational.
“I wanted to run him in the Belmont in his three-year-old year,” said Ron Paolucci of Loooch Racing Stables, who owns the horse in partnership with Glenn K. Ellis and Imaginary Stables. “I told (trainer) Jorge (Navarro), ‘If you let him go :24 quarters, he’ll run all day. That was the thinking in (running him) in this spot.”
Breaking from post 7, jockey Javier Castellano guided War Story to an inside spot off the rail heading into the first turn, settling behind pacesetting favorite Tu Brutus, who opened up a multi-length lead heading up the backstretch. Sunny Ridge was the first to challenge the leader, with Castellan and War Story remaining a length off the pace.
Coming in the stretch, Castellano swung War Story to the outside, and under consistent urging, the chestnut son of Northern Afleet cruised past both Sunny Ridge and Tu Brutus to win by 2 1/2 lengths.
“When you look at his past performances, who he ran against and who they were going to make the favorite,” Paolucci pointed out, “there was no Arrogate in this race, no California Chrome. He’s been through the wars and he showed his class today. (Tu Brutus) is a nice horse, and (War Story) was tracking him, and he put him away. He earned it. He deserved it.
“It was a great ride by Javier, too, as usual.”
The $220,000 winner’s share of the purse also made War Story a millionaire, with earnings of $1.15 million.
Paolucci privately purchased the horse out of the Pulpit mare Belle Watling after his first start. He was entered in the Fasig-Tipton Summer Selected Horses of Racing Age sale in 2015 and failed to meet his reserve, bringing a final bid of $545,000.
Though Paolucci hasn’t given much thought to where his eclectically-campaigned horse might run next after his 12-furlong win, he did venture, “Knowing me, I might run him in a sprint at Gulfstream.”
Jorge Navarro, trainer War Story, winner
“When he was just galloping along like that, I wasn’t all confident that he was in the right position. This is a fast track. I told Javier (Castellano), ‘You can do anything you want, but keep him in the clear. Do not let a horse come outside of you. He doesn’t like that.’ As that horse came outside of him, he kind of stopped and I was thinking ‘What are you doing?’ Then Javier said he remembered what I told him and we won the race. He kicked it into another gear.
“I’ve had this horse for about six months. I haven’t done anything special with him, but he had a little bit of mental issues, so I worked with him. He lets you know what he doesn’t want you to do with him. Today he ran hard; really dug in and showed a lot of heart. I wasn’t impressed with the way he won today because he’s been training like that. But I am very happy with the way he won today.
“I don’t know what is next for him. We’ll get him back to the barn and I’ll talk with the owner and we’ll see.”
Javier Castellano, jockey War Story, winner
“It was beautiful. He rode a perfect race. That’s what I was looking for today. There wasn’t much speed; there was only one target and I didn’t want to wait because this is a mile and a half and they’re not used to these type of races. I put him in the game, but at the same time, I took up a little and gave him a break all the way down the backside. At the top of the stretch, when I asked him again, he took off.”