July 23, 2024

Kentucky Derby Report – War of Will aces Lecomte test

War of Will wins the 75th running of the Lecomte Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds on January 19, 2019 (c) Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges Jr.

War of Will looked good winning the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds, drawing off to a four-length decision, and Mark Casse came away extremely pleased with the colt’s first race over a fast track.

“I think he has the potential to be a real superstar,” the trainer said.

It’s only January and the competition will get tougher for War of Will, but the Lecomte served as an encouraging start to his three-year-old campaign.


War of Will made his first four starts on turf, displaying fine class recording a close second in the Summer (G1) and a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) while still a maiden. He caught a sloppy track when switching surfaces at Churchill Downs in late November and rolled to a five-length win over maiden special weight foes in his juvenile finale.

Bettors had reason to be skeptical of his fast track prowess entering the Lecomte. Four years earlier, the classy turf performer Airoforce switched surfaces for his final two-year-old start and posted a superb win for Casse in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over a sloppy oval at Churchill Downs. But that form didn’t hold up a few months later when he returned as the favorite under fast conditions in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds and finished up the track in 10th. Airoforce raced exclusively on turf/synthetics for the rest of his career.

War of Will’s versatility is now a given and the promising sophomore has established himself as a viable Kentucky Derby contender.

Owned by Gary Barber, the 8-5 favorite broke sharply in the Lecomte and jockey Tyler Gaffalione floated the bay wide on the first turn to avoid any trouble. Gaffalione always appeared to have a ton of horse while stalking the pace in third down the backstretch and War of Will advanced under a hold to even terms with Manny Wah nearing the completion of the far turn. That rival tried to battle back in upper stretch, but War of Will spurted away while being given his cue and cruised to the wire as much the best.

“When I unleashed him, he really turned it on,” Gaffalione said. “He’s such a nice horse.”

The track dried out after morning showers and the first half of Saturday’s program was held under beautiful conditions at Fair Grounds. But a cold front enveloped the New Orleans venue later in the afternoon and the Lecomte took place under the lights in extremely windy conditions. Horses faced a significant headwind on the backstretch.

War of Will netted his second consecutive triple-digit BRIS Late Pace rating (106) and equaled the 94 Speed figure he earned breaking his maiden. He will need to run faster in future engagements but I’m not going to put too much stock into the numbers considering the adverse conditions.

Sire War Front is known more for turf but his son Declaration of War finished a neck third when trying the dirt in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita. Other dirt offspring include multiple Grade 1 winner The Factor and three-time Grade 2 victor Departing. War of Will hails from a distinguished female family: he counts the Group 1-winning juvenile Pathfork as a half-brother and his stakes-winning dam, a daughter of noted European sire Sadler’s Wells, is a half-sister to 1997 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Spinning World.

War of Will banked 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth winning the Lecomte at a mile and 70 yards. Based at Fair Grounds, he’s expected back for the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star on February 19.

The first of 16 races in the Championship portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Risen Star will award points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers.

Hog Creek Hustle rallied from off the pace for second at 13-1, two lengths better than the front-running Manny Wah, who saved the show by a half-length. Both were exiting a fine showing in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds (finishing third and second, respectively) but tough to get enthused about their chances at longer distances.

Smarty Jones Preview

Friday’s opening-day card Oaklawn Park features the $150,000 Smarty Jones, the first of four local qualifiers in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, and eight horses are scheduled to contest the one-mile event at two turns. Nine were entered but Jack Van Berg will scratch in favor a Saturday allowance.

Gray Attempt will try to carry his form two turns following an impressive sprint win in the Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds.

A son of Graydar, the Jinx Fires-trained colt broke his maiden wire-to-wire when making his second career start at Churchill Downs in late November and showed high speed from the start of the Sugar Bowl, beating a couple of front-running rivals to the fore as he surged clear leaving the starting gate. Gray Attempt sailed the rest of the way and registered a 96 BRIS Speed rating, the top figure in the Smarty Jones.

I’m anticipating another favorable trip with regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan and the one-mile configuration at Oaklawn, which features a short stretch with the finish line at the sixteenth pole, should favor 5-2 morning line favorite. The last two winners of the Smarty Jones, Mourinho and Uncontested, sped wire-to-wire unopposed despite having perceived distance limitations and it’s easy for me to envision a similar trip for Gray Attempt.

Super Steed offers some appeal from a betting perspective. Well-backed in all three starts, the Super Saver colt earned his lone win when romping by six lengths over allowance foes in his second attempt. He was too far back in the early stages of the Sugar Bowl, eventually winding up fourth as the even-money favorite, and has broken poorly in all three starts. If the Larry Jones-trained colt can find a way to establish better positioning during the early stages, Super Steed is eligible to make an impact from just off the pace.

Long Range Toddy and Bankit, the top two finishers from the December 16 Springboard Mile at Remington Park, are among a trio from the Steve Asmussen stable. Long Range Toddy parlayed a favorable trip on a soft pace to a head win but must improve upon a career-best 89 BRIS Speed.

Bankit is eligible to show more after a less-than-favorable trip in which he was last of 11 after the opening quarter-mile. A front-running type in his first four starts, the New York-bred stakes winner should be closer this time with Ricardo Santana Jr.

I like Gray Attempt’s chances but will also consider Super Steed and Bankit for multi-race wagers.

Other runners of interest

Keeping tabs on three-year-olds from the maiden, allowance and stakes ranks who appear headed to Kentucky Derby qualifiers:

Gulfstream Park

Bourbon War opened his three-year-old season with a convincing allowance win on January 18, improving to two-for-three for owners Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable and trainer Mark Hennig. A debut winner at Aqueduct in mid-November, the Tapit colt was exiting a fourth in the Remsen (G2) to Maximus Mischief, arguably the leading Kentucky Derby contender based on the East Coast. Bourbon War was squeezed back a little on first turn and rated about five lengths off the lead until advancing along the inside to take closer order on far turn. Irad Ortiz Jr. guided the well-built sophomore between horses and Bourbon War accelerated into the short stretch with a clear lead, prevailing by 2 ¼ lengths. He earned a 96 BRIS Speed rating and the March 2 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park could be next.

Veering inward at the break, Country House was left far behind a few jumps out of the starting gate and the 3-5 favorite continued to trail along the backstretch behind a moderate opening half-mile in :49.07. Luis Saez asked for run on the far turn and Country House circled his five rivals by the top of the stretch, powering his way clear and winning under wraps. Unplaced in his first attempt on turf, the Bill Mott-trained son of Lookin at Lucky was exiting a fast-closing second on dirt at Aqueduct in early December. The Shields and McFadden colorbearer received a 91 BRIS Speed rating and a whopping 123 Late Pace number for his third career start. Country House is closely related to Canadian classic winner and multiple Grade 1-placed Breaking Lucky and promises to bring a stout closing kick to upcoming starts.

Fair Grounds

Owendale entered this salty January 17 allowance/optional claiming event at a mile and 70 yards with little fanfare following a neck second at the same level 26 days earlier. Last-out maiden winners Cornachia and Gun It took most of the betting action but neither were a factor in the end as Owendale posted a 1 ½-length tally. Trained by Brad Cox for Rupp Racing, Owendale settled into a good stalking trip from his rail post, began to inch closer on far turn and was forced to make an early bid due to a rallying Cornachia, who advanced sharply into contention on the far outside but suddenly ran out of gas while straightening for home. Owendale forged his way to a clear lead by midstretch and rolled home unopposed, receiving a career-best 96 BRIS Speed rating for his second win. He’s by top sire Into Mischief and is bred for longer distances on the female side.

Sharp Prospect, another son of Into Mischief, recorded his first win on the Lecomte undercard when posting a 4 ½-length maiden score at a mile and 70 yards. Campaigned by Barry and Joni Butzow, the bay colt settled just off the pace before advancing to the lead in upper stretch and dominated to the wire. The improving Joe Sharp trainee was exiting a runner-up effort in mid-December and garnered an 88 BRIS Speed rating making his fifth start. Sharp Prospect is out of a multiple stakes-winning dam by Unbridled and his second maternal dam is by Raise a Native. Just like with Owendale, I’m always intrigued by Into Mischiefs with stamina on the bottom half of the pedigree because so many of his talented offspring come from speedy female lines.

Entered for turf early on the Lecomte undercard, Americandy made his career debut on a good main track when the race was moved by management. The son of Candy Ride essentially walked out of the starting gate and trailed in last among 12 runners behind a pedestrian pace until the far turn, launching a wide move on the bend. He still had plenty to do entering the stretch and carried his momentum forward with a visually impressive rally, blowing past the rest of the field to win the 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight going away by 1 ½ lengths. Owned by Signal Hills Farms, the Michael Stidham-trained son Candy Ride received only a 78 BRIS Speed rating but appears to have some upside. Americandy is from the female family of champion Princess Rooney.

Santa Anita

Dessman tracked the pace to the far turn and drew off to a 7 ½-length victory in his January 19 career debut at Santa Anita. A $750,000 two-year-old purchase for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, the Bob Baffert-trained colt was favored at 4-5 over five opponents in the six-furlong affair. He’s by Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags and this is the immediate female family of multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire Smok’n Frolic. Dessman received an 87 BRIS Speed rating.

Tampa Bay Downs

Based at Fair Hill, Win Win Win recorded a runner-up in the Heft at Laurel Park in late December and shipped to Tampa for the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes on January 19. The Hat Trick colt did not break promptly and rated well off the pace until making his move into contention on the turn. He rallied with gusto into stretch, overhauling front-running Overdeliver and extending his lead to 7 ¼ lengths on the wire. The dark netted a career-best 101 BRIS Speed rating and established a new track record (1:20.89) for the eye-catching win. A Live Oak homebred, Win Win Win has raced exclusively in sprints and will be stretch out in distance next time for trainer Michael Trombetta. He’s out of a mare by Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones and his second maternal dam is by Unbridled.

Up next

We’ll recap the Smarty Jones and preview a trio of qualifiers on February 2: Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park, Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita and Withers (G3) at Aqueduct.

Kentucky Derby Top 10

  1. GAME WINNER: Unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner targeting the 3/9 San Felipe
  2. IMPROBABLE: Unbeaten Los Alamitos Futurity winner may head to Oaklawn for Baffert
  3. MAXIMUS MISCHIEF: Remsen winner shows five-furlong bullet in advance of 2/2 Holy Bull
  4. WAR OF WILL: Much the best in Lecomte and appeared to win with plenty in reserve
  5. VEKOMA: Nashua victor unbeaten from two starts
  6. MIHOS: Registered 100 BRIS Speed for rallying win in Mucho Macho Man
  7. COLISEUM: Baffert trainee eligible to rebound from Sham clunker
  8. GUNMETAL GRAY: Late-running specialist mowed down Sham rivals
  9. MUCHO: Hopeful runner-up back working for Mott
  10. SIGNALMAN: Kentucky Jockey Club winner has not returned to the worktab