Last year’s Preakness (G1) hero War of Will entered this campaign with a major goal: earn a turf Grade 1 laurel to go along with his classic victory on dirt. The War Front colt achieved that objective Friday by getting up on the wire in the $300,000 Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland.
Now owner Gary Barber and trainer Mark Casse have decisions to make as they plot a path to the Breeders’ Cup. As a winner over course and distance, War of Will has natural claims to press on toward the Mile (G1). But chances are he’d face a softer surface by Nov. 7, plus the possibility of Europeans braving travel amid the pandemic. After all, it was a tough-trip fifth in a yielding Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) in 2018 that prompted the switch to dirt. For now, connections can savor that War of Will has no shortage of options.
Drawn on the far outside in post 10, War of Will used his trademark early speed to secure a tracking spot with Tyler Gaffalione. He was helped by the fact that High Crime showed reasonable dash from post 2, giving the at-times headstrong War of Will enough of a tempo to chase without overdoing it. As High Crime carved out splits of :23.17, :46.91, and 1:11.09 on a course listed as firm, Parlor pursued, and War of Will was parked in third.
Further back in the pack were Chad Brown’s duo, 6-5 favorite Raging Bull and 2-1 second choice Without Parole. Both had beaten War of Will last out in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) on Memorial Day, when Raging Bull romped, Without Parole was a somewhat unlucky third, and War of Will was demoted from fifth to sixth for swiping others at the start.
War of Will was a different proposition in the rematch. Benefiting fitness-wise from his comeback at Santa Anita, he arguably enjoyed the pace set-up better at Keeneland, as well as having the blinkers off. Parlor was the first to wear down High Crime in midstretch, but War of Will was relentless inside the final furlong. Steadily clawing back the yards, the 5-1 chance thrust his nose in front to deny Parlor the 24-1 upset.
Raging Bull got on the rampage a fraction too late in third, another neck back. Without Parole again finished well but belatedly, a half-length astern of his stablemate in fourth. Emmaus, English Bee, Hembree, High Crime, Everfast, and Next Shares rounded out the order under the wire.
War of Will clocked 1:34.55, rewarding his backers with a $13.80 win payout and boosting his line to 16-5-1-2, $1,796,069.
The Niarchos Family-bred has come a long way, via a circuitous route, since RNA’ing for $175,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. At that time he was privately acquired by Norman Williamson, who prepared him at his Oak Tree Farm in Ireland and consigned him to the Arqana May Breeze-Up Sale in France. That’s where Justin Casse, the trainer’s brother, purchased him for €250,000 and returned the well-bred youngster to the United States.
War of Will began his career on turf with a few creditable efforts in defeat, including a second in the Summer S. (G1). But he didn’t break his maiden until trying the dirt at Churchill Downs, where he loved the slop and put himself on the 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1) trail.
After victories in the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, War of Will tweaked his patella when a subpar ninth in the Louisiana Derby (G2). He made it to the Kentucky Derby, only to be hampered by the wayward Maximum Security and end up eighth. War of Will famously rebounded in the Preakness, regressed to ninth in the Belmont (G1), and didn’t recover his best form thereafter. His third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) was bookended by unplaced results in the Jim Dandy (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and he called it a season.
Kentucky-bred War of Will sports an international pedigree befitting the Niarchos Family’s Flaxman Holdings Ltd. He is a half-brother to Irish highweight juvenile and South African sire Pathfork as well as Tacticus, who captured dirt stakes at Belmont and Saratoga. Their dam, the French stakes-winning Sadler’s Wells mare Visions of Clarity, is herself a half to 1997 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) star Spinning World, an Irish classic victor and multiple French Group 1-winning highweight. This is the exceptional family of U.S. champion sprinter Aldebaran tracing to blue hen Best in Show.