Trainer Mark Casse was upbeat Sunday about the Kentucky Derby (G1) status of Saturday’s beaten Louisiana Derby (G2) favorite War of Will, who never factored after taking a few awkward strides in the initial stages.
The 4-5 choice following victories in the first two Fair Grounds preps, the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2), War of Will had his hind end slip underneath him as he was trying to propel forward. His usual speed was nowhere to be found in consequence, and he wound up a distant ninth, by far the worst loss of his career.
Reporting that War of Will was “significantly off” Saturday evening, Casse surmised that it was likely a muscle strain. At that time it was premature to comment on his Kentucky Derby hopes.
The prognosis became much better by Sunday morning, when his stable star had already shown marked improvement. The NTRA’s Director of Communications, Alicia Wincze Hughes, shared the positive bulletin:
Encouraging update from Mark Casse re: War of Will “It’s amazing how much better he was today. I just feel fortunate that he’s okay. We’re fairly certain that he probably caught his patella a little bit right at the start. But we feel optimistic that we can still make the Derby.”
— Alicia Wincze Hughes (@AHughesNTRA) March 24, 2019
Gary Barber’s well-bred War Front colt had amassed 60 Derby points from his two scoring race wins, so he was not dependent upon additional points from the Louisiana Derby. All that remains now is for him to continue to recover quickly from his hiccup and get back on track for Derby 145.
Plans call for War of Will to ship to Casse’s Keeneland barn, managed by assistant trainer David Carroll, on Tuesday.
Casse told Fair Grounds’ publicity that War of Will “probably” would get laser treatment to help the patella muscle in the hind end as well as a revamped training regimen.
“We’re going to change his exercise a bit for a while, just try to strengthen his patella ligaments,” Casse said.
“It’s something that as a trainer for 40 years, I’ve been dealing with patella ligaments since the beginning of my career but I’ve never seen one catch like that one did. But the good news is he was happy this morning.”
Meanwhile, the 22-1 upset Louisiana Derby winner, By My Standards, was in fine fettle for trainer Bret Calhoun. The son of Goldencents is likewise Kentucky-bound on Tuesday, but headed to Churchill Downs.
“We’ve never had anything that even we thought really deserved to discuss being on the Derby trail,” said Calhoun, who will saddle his first starter in the “Run for the Roses.”
“We think this is a legitimate horse. We didn’t want to get caught up in Derby fever unless we had a legitimate horse. We didn’t want to just be there to be there. We want to be there if we have a contender and we believe he is a contender.
“Hopefully we’ll get an easy breeze in 12, 13, 14 days,” Calhoun added. “He worked a little quicker up to this race than he had previously so hopefully we can take it easy first work back then give him another easy one after that. Then we’ll do a little bit more after that in the middle there.
“He’s ready. We have to maintain what we’ve got. The Derby is a whole different deal. It’s not just the race, it’s everything that goes into going up there. We’ll do a lot of stuff preparing him for that. He’s got a great mind, we’re lucky in that sense that he’ll handle everything.”
The day-after news was similarly good on Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) upsetter Street Band.
“We’re thrilled with how she stepped up yesterday,” Corey York, Larry Jones’ assistant trainer, said. “I know that Larry is very excited. He was at Oaklawn yesterday. She came back great and ate up well and cooled off just fine. We’ll head back to Churchill sometime this week.”
Trainer Tom Amoss reported that Serengeti Empress, who bled when last as the 1-5 favorite in the Fair Grounds Oaks, was in good order Sunday.
“No timetable and no racing plans,” Amoss understandably commented.