Trainer Mark Casse still plans to send Preakness (G1) hero War of Will onto the turf for his 2020 debut, but that’s likely to come later and at a different venue than first thought. Instead of resuming in Saturday’s $75,000 Sunshine Forever S. at Gulfstream Park, Casse has a bigger target in mind – the $300,000 Shoemaker Mile (G1) on the May 25 Memorial Day program at Santa Anita.
The Canadian Hall of Fame horseman, about to become a dual Hall of Famer after being elected to the Saratoga Springs shrine, dropped the news in an interview with TVG’s Britney Eurton late Friday afternoon.
Announcing that War of Will was “likely” to scratch from the Gulfstream Park feature, Casse reiterated that the major goal is to add a Grade 1 laurel on turf. In consultation with owner Gary Barber, the team prefers to point for the next opportunity – aware that they’re rolling the dice about Santa Anita’s status.
The Arcadia, California, track has been on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and officials hope to receive clearance from Los Angeles County authorities to race again soon. Santa Anita has released a tentative schedule calling for racing to begin again May 15. According to the new condition book, the Memorial Day card would offer a trio of graded turf stakes, the Gamely (G1) and Monrovia (G2) supporting the Shoemaker Mile.
Despite the risk of whether the Shoemaker Mile goes off as hoped on May 25, the revised Barber/Casse idea makes sense. Not only does the Shoemaker offer an immediate shot at achieving the turf Grade 1 objective, but it also serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). In contrast, the Sunshine Forever is one-fourth the purse, for less prestige, and against respectable competition. War of Will drew the far outside post 12 at Gulfstream too, presaging either a wide trip or having to gun it more than desirable to clear the other speed.
Before emerging as a dirt star, the blueblood son of War Front logically started out on turf and ranked as one of the leading juveniles on the surface. He was just run down late in the 2018 Summer (G1), and a wide trip on soggy ground contributed to his fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Connections were wise to switch to dirt then, and War of Will will try to prove them right again by pursuing unfinished business on the lawn.