July 20, 2019

Kentucky Derby Report: War of Will keeps rolling at Fair Grounds

War of Will wins the Risen Star at Fair Grounds (c) Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges Jr.

They call him Wow because of his physical stature and War of Will has been king of Fair Grounds this winter. He added his second straight Kentucky Derby qualifier when posting a 2 1/4-length victory in the Risen Star (G2) last Saturday.

The first of 16 races in the Championship section of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Risen Star was worth 50 points to the winner and War of Will jumped to the top of the Leaderboard with a 60-point total. Mark Casse trains the strapping son of War Front for Gary Barber and Tyler Gaffalione rides.

The Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park and El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields also offered points toward a Kentucky Derby berth last weekend.

No qualifiers will be offered this weekend, with the March 2 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park up next on the schedule.

Risen Star

War of Will was hustled from post 13 to achieve a forward position and tracked in second while under a snug hold along the backstretch. Similar to January 19 Lecomte (G3), the even-money favorite pulled himself to the lead before the conclusion of the far turn and accelerated into the stretch with a clear advantage. He proceeded to win comfortably and improved to three-for-three on dirt.

Out of a mare by Sadler’s Wells and a half-brother to a Grade 1 turf winner, War of Will began his career on turf and showed good speed in his first three starts, including a runner-up in the Summer (G1) at Woodbine. But an even fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) prompted connections to try the main track and War of Will has been dominant ever since.

The exciting sophomore colt has overpowered opponents so far this year, winning the Lecomte at a mile and 70 yards and the Risen Star at 1 1/16 miles, but his BRIS Speed ratings remain underwhelming. I wasn’t too concerned after he posted a 94 for the Lecomte under extremely windy conditions but came away disappointed by a 96 in the Risen Star.

War of Will drew off sharply through the stretch while winning the Lecomte under wraps, stretching his advantage to four lengths, and registered a 106 BRIS Late Pace rating. But he lacked the same zeal completing the final five-sixteenths of the Risen Star in 32.39 seconds and his Late Pace number dropped to an 83.

Casse and Gaffalione attributed the outside post to being keyed up early and indicated War of Will has trouble maintaining his focus when striking the front early.

“He had to hit the gas a little to get over so that got him a little riled up,” the trainer said. “It’s like hitting the gas and then trying to hit stop, they’re not as easy to stop as a car…(He) probably made the lead a little earlier than we would have liked. He’s done this a few times early on. When he gets the lead, he starts wandering.”

“(War of Will) got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early,” the jockey added. “But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

Cheap speed has quit readily in the last two starts and War of Will may receive a more legitimate set-up in his final prep, most likely the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds on March 23. He’s been headstrong both times and I would like to see him settle more willingly on the stretch out to 1 1/8 miles. And War of Will needs to run faster from a Speed rating perspective, ideally producing at least a triple-digit number before arriving at Churchill Downs.

Country House still has plenty to gain from a mental perspective, failing to run straight through the stretch as he recorded a clear second. The first Saturday in May could come too soon for a colt who also has trouble breaking from the starting gate, but I think the talent’s there if he can put it together over the next 2 1/2 months for Bill Mott.

After overcoming a near-disastrous start to powerfully break his maiden in mid-January, the Lookin at Lucky colt offered another terrific rally on the far turn of the Risen Star, passing seven rivals to reach second by upper stretch. Country House loomed a threat but started weaving all over the place while reducing the margin through the final furlong, with Luis Saez eventually wrapping up late when it became clear he wasn’t going to catch the winner. Country House has the pedigree and build to flourish at longer distances and I like the outstanding turn of foot he’s displayed.

Roiland walked out of the gate and came flying late to be a clear third. He improved upon a seventh in the Lecomte but the son of Successful Appeal must outrun his pedigree to factor at longer distances this spring.

Southwest

Super Steed bore little resemblance to the horse who recorded unplaced finishes in two previous stakes attempts this winter, offering a decisive move on the far turn to open a commanding advantage by upper stretch. He held on by a diminishing neck to post a 62-1 upset in Monday’s Southwest and revitalized his Kentucky Derby hopes. The son of Super Saver lost plenty of ground utilizing the overland route, rallying five-wide past runners on the far turn under Terry Thompson, but benefited from a hot pace in the 1 1/16-mile race. His 94 BRIS Speed rating was subpar for the level. Larry Jones trains for Mike Pressley and Steed Jackson and Super Steed hails from a nice female family, with his dam being a half-sibling to Arkansas Derby (G1) winner and Kentucky Derby third-placer Danza; and Majestic Harbor, a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/4 miles. But Super Steed hasn’t performed like a colt who will relish added ground. He pocketed 10 points toward a spot in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field but could be hard-pressed to back up this performance next time.

El Camino Real Derby

Anothertwistafate stamped his ticket for the middle leg of the Triple Crown, earning a fees-paid berth to the Preakness Stakes, and made a seamless transition to stakes company with a third consecutive wire-to-wire win on Golden Gate’s Tapeta track. The 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby awarded 10 Kentucky Derby points to the winner and Anothertwistafate ran his rivals into the ground recording a seven-length triumph. Unplaced when debuting in a Santa Anita sprint in early November, the dark bay colt shipped north and easily broke his maiden when trying two turns a month later and followed with a five-length allowance tally on January 4. He earned a solid 99 BRIS Speed rating last Saturday and Juan Hernandez has been up in all four starts for Blaine Wright.  Anothertwistafate is by Scat Daddy, sire of Justify, but the El Camino Real Derby tells us nothing about his dirt ability (a turf filly won the race last year). Grass will always be an option for the Peter Redekop colorbearer since he comes from a female family loaded with turf stakes performers, with his dam being a half-sister to French Oaks (G1) winner Nebraska Tornado and Distaff Turf Mile (G3) heroine Mirabilis. Anothertwistafate will try to transfer his improving form to dirt next time according to Wright.

Other three-year-olds of interest

Here are some three-year-olds from last week who could be headed to a Kentucky Derby qualifier:

Santa Anita

Galilean easily disposed of four overmatched California-bred foes in the February 18 California Cup Derby and the 1-9 favorite displayed a new dimension, patiently rating up close before quickly changing the complexion of the 1 1/16-mile race with a bold run into the stretch. The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained colt had employed front-running tactics in his first three outings and Flavien Prat rides for West Point Thoroughbreds, Denise Barker and William Sandbrook. Galilean made it look easy but netted only a 92 BRIS Speed rating for the 4 1/2-length decision, a four-point decrease from a nine-length tally in the December 16 King Glorious at Los Alamitos. His Speed ratings are headed the wrong way, with Galilean recording a career-best 97 for his lone defeat three starts back, a neck second in the seven-furlong Golden State Juvenile in early November. And that’s where any comparisons between Galilean and another famed California-bred, 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, come up short: California Chrome was the horse to beat in his first qualifier (San Felipe) after posting Speed ratings as high as 101 in recent starts. Distance shouldn’t be an issue with Galilean’s pedigree – he’s by Uncle Mo (sire of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist) and out of an El Prado mare – but the $600,000 two-year-old sales graduate will need to run faster against open company.

Laurel Park

Alwaysmining cleared the field a few jumps out of the gate and was never threatened leading wire to wire in the February 16 Miracle Wood, rolling to a 4 1/4-length decision at a one-turn mile. With regular rider Danny Centeno, the Maryland-bred gelding stretched his win skein to four for Runnymede Racing and trainer Kelly Rubley. The son of Stay Thirsty was exiting a 1 1/2-length score in the December 29 Heft at Laurel over Win Win Win, who came back to post a record-setting win in the Pasco and is pointing for the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Alwaysmining received a career-best 98 BRIS Speed rating and may get the opportunity to try a qualifier next time, but he’s proven to be a one-turn specialist in his first 10 starts.

Oaklawn Park

Intrepid Heart accompanied stakes-bound stablemates to Arkansas and the well-bred gray colt did not disappoint making his career debut at a two-turn mile on February 18, winning by a widening 7 3/4-length margin. John Velazquez was up and Intrepid Heart dueled through the opening five-eighths of a mile before blistering the competition, striding away beautifully in the stretch and registering commendable 91 BRIS Speed rating. A $750,000 two-year-old purchase for Robert & Lawana Low, the son of Tapit is out of the multiple stakes-winning Flaming Heart, a daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Tough Gold and a half-sister to Mythical Bride, dam of 2018 Wood Memorial (G2) winner Vino Rosso and recent Sam F. Davis (G3) third-placer So Alive. Intrepid Heart counts as a half-brother Grade 2 winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner; and Grade 3 victor and Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) runner-up Laugh Track. He established himself as an exciting prospect for Todd Pletcher and even though February/ 18 is a late starting point for a Kentucky Derby hopeful, 2018 Triple Crown hero Justify didn’t debut until February 19.

Laughing Fox won his second straight for Steve Asmussen, rallying to take an entry-level allowance by 1 14 lengths on February 18. The chestnut colt dropped more than 10 lengths behind a hot early pace with Ricardo Santana Jr., launched his move on the far turn and powered between rivals while straightening for home. He turned back a serious challenge to win going away and Laughing Fox serves as a good example of how developing sophomores can significantly increase their BRIS Speed ratings, posting a 93 after receiving only a 78 Speed rating for a January 25 maiden win at Oaklawn. Unplaced in his first two attempts sprinting for Alex and Joann Lieblong, Laughing Fox has now two straight at 1 1/16 miles and his bloodlines feature a mix of speed and stamina. He’s by Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags and out of the multiple stakes-winning Stormy Atlantic mare Saskawea, who is closely related to champion Canadian sprinter Noholdingbackbear.

Comedian earned his first victory with a convincing tally on February 18, scoring at a mile for Asmussen and Santana. Runner-up in his first two efforts at Fair Grounds, he showed speed from the gate but quickly conceded the advantage to another rival, stalking well off the pace down the backstretch.  The bay colt advanced three-wide into the short stretch and blew past a rival to win going away stylishly for Bloom Racing Stable, earning a 90 Speed and a 98 Late Pace rating. By Into Mischief, Comedian is eligible to receive stamina from his female side. He’s the first foal from an unraced Arch mare and counts Northern Spur and Seeking the Gold as the broodmare sires of his second and third maternal dams.

Fair Grounds

Get the Prize got the money in his first start, leading wire to wire in a six-furlong test on February 16. Miguel Mena hustled the Candy Ride colt to the fore at the break and after being closely chased to midstretch, Get the Prize drew off sharply to win by nearly three lengths. The Al Stall Jr. trainee stopped the teletimer in an eye-catching 1:09.85 and received an excellent 95 BRIS Speed rating at the New Orleans oval. Bred to thrive at two-turn distances, Get the Prize looks like one to follow for Spendthrift Farm and Town & Country Racing. The $410,000 two-year-old sales purchase hails from the Giant’s Causeway mare Hondo’s Way, a half-sister to 2005 Cotillion (G2) winner Nothing But Fun. Both are out of a mare by Theatrical.

By My Standards didn’t break cleanly but recovered to establish a stalking position just off the pace while wide into the first turn of a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on February 16. He edged closer on the far turn and grinded his way to the lead by midstretch, eventually scoring by 4 1/4 lengths. Owned by Allied Racing and trained by Bret Calhoun, the Goldencents colt was ridden by Gabriel Saez and registered a 90 Speed figure in his fourth start. Be My Standards is out the turf stakes winner A Jealous Woman, a daughter of Muqtarib. His third and fourth maternal dams are by Storm Bird and Secretariat.

Aqueduct

Grumps Little Tots settled behind a few lengths off the pace and came under a ride while advancing with a wide rally approaching the stretch of the one-mile maiden special weight on February 18. He carried his momentum past a pair of rivals after turning for home and drew away late to a 6 1/2-length win, pleasing supporters as the 9-5 favorite. Manny Franco was up for Jason Servis and the gelding races for Michael Dubb, Coyle Boys Stable and Bethlehem Stables. He earned a 91 Speed rating. Third to next-out Hopeful (G1) winner Mind Control in his debut last August, Grumps Little Tots was exiting a par of seconds. The Kentucky-bred son of Sky Mesa hails from a mare by Quiet American but this is the immediate female family of Grade 1-winning sprinter Sean Avery.

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1. GAME WINNER: Unbeaten champ targeting March 9 San Felipe for Baffert
2. IMPROBABLE: Baffert said unbeaten Grade 1 winner could also show up in San Felipe
3. HIDDEN SCROLL: Impressive debut maiden winner headed to March 2 Fountain of Youth
4. COUNTRY HOUSE: Risen Star runner-up may have a big upside
5. WAR OF WILL: Two-for-two in Fair Grounds’ prep races this winter
6. VEKOMA: Unbeaten stakes winner to return in Fountain of Youth
7. BOURBON WAR: Gulfstream allowance winner also part of Fountain of Youth mix
8. SOLDADO: Rolled to a sharp maiden tally at first asking for Pletcher
9. GUNMETAL GRAY: One-run closer with a touch of class
10. LIMONITE: Troubled trip finishing fifth in Risen Star; may show more for Asmussen next time