by Brian Bohl
Trainer Mark Casse's pair of contenders for Saturday's Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets paddock schooled before heading to the Belmont Park main track Tuesday morning.
Grade 1 Preakness-winner War of Will and Grade 3 Peter Pan runner-up Sir Winston were sent to Big Sandy from the paddock shortly before 9 a.m. It marked the return of the Gary Barber-owned War of Will to New York, where he trained as a 2-year-old. War of Will arrived by van Monday morning from his Keeneland base in Lexington, Kentucky, and Tuesday's session provided the opportunity to reacclimate to Belmont's sweeping turns ahead of the 1 ½-mile "Test of the Champion."
Casse said he had a slight scare when the alarm went off for a pair of other horses who had gotten loose on the track, but the rest of the training session went off without incident. Both loose horses were also fine.
"I thought they both went really well," Casse said. "My heart rate went up [at the alarm]. Of course, there's always something befalling War of Will. But they said he acted fine. This track is so big, it's tough to really see, but they said he went fine. I had planned on jogging him this morning, but he had so much energy and was trying to jump on everybody and tried to jump on me, so I said to go ahead and gallop him."
War of Will, the only entry in the expected 10-horse Belmont Stakes field to have run in the first two legs of the Triple Crown [placing seventh in the Kentucky Derby] was bred in Kentucky by Flaxman Holdings. Casse's brother, bloodstock agent Justin Casse, purchased War of Will overseas last May at the Arqana Breeze Up Sale in France for just under $300,000.
The War Front colt, who maintained his spot atop the NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll for a second straight week on Monday, has already earned $1,491,569 in his career. Casse said he'll keep plans for the rest of the week fluid.
"I kind of play it day-to-day. He does do a lot of jogging normally," Casse said. "But he'll probably gallop tomorrow. I thought he looked great on the track today."
Jockey Tyler Gaffalione is set to ride War of Will, with the post positions being announced at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the draw being held at Citi Field before the New York Mets face the San Francisco Giants.
Tracy Farmer's Sir Winston is more familiar with Belmont, running second to Global Campaign in the Peter Pan on May 11. Since that start, which earned him a personal-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure, the Awesome Again colt has breezed twice on Belmont's main track. For the Belmont Stakes, jockey Joel Rosario will be in the irons for Sir Winston.
"I thought it was extremely encouraging," Casse said. "If the pace were to get pretty hot, it's going to help Sir Winston, because he's truly a mile-and-a-half horse. One thing about it; the pace won't likely be as fast, so he probably won't come as far out of it. But we're not going to take him out of his way. Joel will let him be comfortable, and he'll come running."
The Belmont Stakes post position draw will be livestreamed Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. on www.belmontstakes.com.