War of Will, the 2019 Preakness (G1) winner, will kick off his 4-year-old campaign in the $75,000 Sunshine Forever at Gulfstream Park, the only scheduled stakes in the country on Saturday. For trainer Mark Casse, newly elected to the Hall of Fame this week, War of Will’s return in the 1 1/16-mile turf event triggers plenty of optimism.
“I think he’s grown up. He looks wonderful. He’s filled out. He’s always been a beautiful horse,” Casse said.
Although War of Will proved one of the top 3-year-olds last spring following victories at both at Pimlico and in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, the son of War Front went unplaced in three of his last four starts. He last ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in November, finishing ninth of 11.
“We’re looking at his stallion prospects,” said Casse in response to his presence in the Sunshine Forever. “We feel like if he can be a multiple Grade 1 winner, on dirt and turf, that would say something, so that’s going to be our goal – to try to win a Grade 1 on grass. That doesn’t mean that one day he won’t go back and try dirt.”
War of Will made his first four starts on turf in 2018, losing by a length or less in both the Summer (G1) and Bourbon (G3), which preceded a rough-trip fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Churchill Downs.
“He had a terrible trip in the Breeders’ Cup,” Casse said. “He ran something like 80 feet farther than the winner. He just had a terrible trip. He could have easily have won. If he had, we may never have gone to the dirt.”
War of Will will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione and drew post 12 for the Sunshine Forever, but should move inside at least one slot with main-track-only entrant Just Whistle drawing post 1.
Given the limited racing opportunities available throughout the country, the Sunshine Forever has come up strong for the purse level. Social Paranoia exits a come-from-behind win in the Appleton (G3) on Florida Derby Day, while Admission Office was a strong second to division leader Zulu Alpha in the Mac Diarmida (G2) in late February.
The lightly-raced Hawkish was a Grade 2 winner at 3 but raced only three times last season for Jimmy Toner. Halladay has stakes-winning form over the Gulfstream turf, while last year’s Woodbine Mile (G1) upsetter El Tormenta looks to bounce back from a nondescript comeback in the Appleton.