by John Mucciolo
Gary Barber’s War of Will took command nearing the turn for home and strode clear to a convincing 2 1/4-length win in the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds on Saturday. The Mark Casse-trained colt finished off 1 1/16 miles on the fast main oval in 1:44.59 beneath Tyler Gaffalione in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points event.
The Risen Star kicked off the Championship portion of the Road of the Kentucky Derby series, offering 50-20-10-5 points to the respective top four finishers.
Gun It broke fast and found his way to the lead from the widest post early on in his stakes debut. The $2.6 million colt established splits of :23.71 and :47.36 to lead the 14-horse contingent for the opening half-mile. As the leader neared the final turn, War of Will was asked for more and he readily went to the front.
War of Will was a half-length clear after reaching six panels in 1:12.20 and held a 2 1/2-length edge after a mile in 1:37.87 while keeping his main foe at bay through the lane.
“For a big horse, he has tremendous speed,” trainer Mark Casse said. “He probably made the lead a little earlier than we’d like…when he hits the lead, his old ears will start wandering and stuff.”
Gulfstream Park shipper Country House was the lone true danger to the winner in the stretch. The maiden winner finished 1 1/2 lengths clear of third in his stakes debut and earned 20 Derby points in the process.
“He ran well. We could have won but he kept lugging in,” said Luis Saez, who piloted Country House.
Roiland, who finished seventh in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) most recently, rallied from well back to garner show honors to get 10 points. Lecomte second Hog Creek Hustle received five points for his fourth-place result.
“He didn’t break real good but finished off real well,” jockey James Graham commented on Roiland. “We saved all the ground, but he’s still kind of figuring it out.”
“Got a little bit squeezed in the first turn, but I took him back like he likes to run. I had to go a little wide by the three-eighths pole, so I went around. I thought he was going to finish third, and he got a little tired at the end,” jockey Florent Geroux explained his ride aboard Hog Creek Hustle.
War of Will improved his career line to 7-3-1-1, 491,569. He is now a two-time graded winner after having triumphed in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in his most recent outing. The 50 points he earned in the Risen Star now has War of Will atop the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with a total of 60.
The winner was bred in the Bluegrass State by Flaxman Holdings Ltd. He is out of listed heroine Visions of Clarity, who is a half-sister to 1997 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) star and sire Spinning World.
Visions of Clarity has also produced another pair of stakes winners. Pathfork was a Group 1 winner as a juvenile on the turf, while Tacticus was a dual stakes victor going marathon distances on the dirt. The Sadler’s Wells mare is also responsible for an unnamed two-year-old Tapit colt.