by NYRA Press Office
Following a troubled trip in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, Gary Barber's War of Will found redemption with a 1 ¼-length victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Preakness and will likely target another American classic in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 8, according to trainer Mark Casse.
"There are only three Triple Crown races and they are pretty important," Casse said. "If you can do it, you should do it. Two years ago, I think we were going to be the only one to run in all three with Classic Empire. It took three days of him before the race where he could not walk [before scratching with a foot abscess], so I think that was a legit reason not to run. That's us, that's what we do. We run."
The top three finishers in the Preakness, runner-up Everfast and late-charging Owendale, are also expected to make their next start in the Belmont.
Casse said War of Will was no worse for wear the morning after his Preakness triumph, which provided his conditioner a first victory in a Triple Crown race.
"Just some energy from him. He's kind of funny. [Hall of Fame trainer] Wayne [Lukas] was around and he said yesterday, 'Boy he's got a lot more energy today'," Casse said. "You can see it when he gallops. I would say there is an extremely good shot that we'll be there. Now, it's just a matter of him saying he doesn't want to go. That would be just if he was lethargic or something. As everyone has seen, he has extremely good energy on the track."
War of Will stamped himself among the top horses on the Derby trail with a pair of Fair Grounds victories in the Grade 3 LeComte and Grade 2 Risen Star over the winter. He entered the Kentucky Derby off of a ninth-place finish in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.
Casse said he was proud of the way his charge overcame a difficult trip in the Derby and that a victory in the Belmont would serve to showcase War of Will's strength and durability.
"It would just show that he's tough and able to overcome things," Casse said. "You saw yesterday, the Derby was very trying. He was a little foot sore for a while after (the Derby). It's a trying race. And the pace was extremely hot yesterday and you saw two deep closers. For our horse to continue on, after he was pretty close to the pace [was impressive]. Even when they were galloping out, he took off again. He wasn't going to let anybody go by. But as far as the Belmont goes, it's the third leg of the Triple Crown. Who doesn't want to win it?"
While Casse always held War of Will in high regard, it was his New York-based assistant Jamie Begg who sent out War of Will for a sharp three-eighths in 36.56 seconds on June 16, 2018 on the Belmont Park dirt training track.
"I actually worked him his first three-eighths against some older horses and I just wanted him to sit off them and not do too much," Begg said. "He had been a real good training horse and he blew them out of the water. He galloped away from company that was much fitter than he was.
"I sent the video of him working to Mark and [bloodstock agent] Justin [Casse] and Mark said, 'This horse is something serious' and that he was a half to a Grade 1 winner," continued Begg. "And I said to them, 'Well a Grade 1-winner may end up being a half to him!' It turned out to be true."
War of Will's pedigree is heavily turf based. Aside from being by prominent turf sire War Front, he is out of Visions of Clarity who produced Group 1 Irish National Stakes winner Pathfork. Visions of Clarity is a half-sister to 1997 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile winner Spinning World.
War of Will made his first four starts on turf, including a strong second in the Grade 1 Summer at Woodbine won by well-regarded Fog of War, but Begg said he always suspected the Preakness winner was better on dirt.
"The thing about the track here is that it doesn't trick you," Begg said "If you work well on that track you're probably a dirt horse."
War of Will could become the 19th horse to complete the Preakness-Belmont double. The last horse to accomplish the feat was Afleet Alex in 2005.
Begg is also preparing the Casse-trained G3 Peter Pan runner-up Sir Winston for the Belmont and noted that the Awesome Again chestnut will breeze next week at Belmont.
With the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes as its centerpiece, the 2019 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival will include 18 stakes races over the three days, including an unprecedented eight Grade 1 races on Belmont Stakes Day, June 8.
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Romans points Everfast to G1 Belmont; Promises Fulfilled to G1 Met Mile
Following a closing second-place finish in the Preakness behind War of Will, Calumet Farm's Everfast will likely point to the Belmont next, trainer Dale Romans said.
A bay son of Take Charge Indy, Everfast finished 1 ¼ lengths behind War of Will at odds of 29-1. He completed the exacta at an even bigger price over the winter when running second behind Harvey Wallbanger in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park at odds of 128-1.
"If everything goes well and he's training well, he'll be there," Romans said. "He can sneak up and run a big race. He always tries, and he showed in the Holy Bull that he can run with those kinds of horses."
Everfast has not won since a first-out maiden win at Ellis Park last summer. He was purchased for $47,000 at the Keeneland January Sale in 2017 and is out of the Awesome Again broodmare Awesome Surprise - a full sister to 2004 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko.
Romans also plans on sending Promises Fulfilled to Belmont Park for the Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap.
Owned by Robert Baron, Promises Fulfilled was a four-time graded stakes winner during his 3-year-old campaign last year, which included a win in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens presented by Runhappy at Saratoga.
Fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs last fall, he was fourth in his 4-year-old debut in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan Racecourse before a hard-fought third in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs Handicap.
"He ran well at Churchill Downs off of a quick turnaround from Dubai. I want to go a mile with him," Romans said.
Should Promises Fulfilled race in the Met Mile, he will likely square off against Mitole who won the Churchill Downs Handicap. Other possible contenders for the Met Mile include McKinzie, Coal Front, Firenze Fire and Nicodemus.
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G2 Suburban Handicap in play for Catholic Boy
Catholic Boy was known for his high-level consistency and versatility during his 3-year-old campaign with Grade 1 triumphs on dirt and turf. Following a comeback win in the Grade 2 Dixie over the grass at Pimlico in his 4-year-old debut, he could go back to the main track for the Grade 2, $700,000 Suburban Handicap on Belmont Park's Star and Stripes Racing Festival program July 6.
Trained by Jonathan Thomas, Catholic Boy won the Dixie by a half-length over Admission Office, earning a 96 Beyer Speed Figure, which was his first start since finishing 13th in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. Last season, he won the Belmont Derby Invitational on turf and the Runhappy Travers on dirt, both Grade 1 races.
"The strategy was that it's six weeks out from the Suburban and that time frame has worked out in the past," Thomas said. "We've got a circle around that race and so far, he looks great. That's the scenario we would love to play out. We'll let the dust settle and see what number he ran. We're not committed one way or another."
With his 4-year-old debut in the rearview mirror, Thomas said Catholic Boy has developed the way that he should.
"He's done what you would expect a horse from three to four would do," Thomas said. "He's filled out and yesterday, pre-race, he was just a lot more grown up with his behavior. He's matured."
His 3-year-old campaign was not the only time Catholic Boy scored graded stakes wins on both surfaces. At age two, he won the Grade 3 With Anticipation over the turf at Saratoga and capped off that season with a win in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct over the main track.
Owned by Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables, Siena Farm and Twin Creeks Racing, Catholic Boy is by More Than Ready, who was last year's co-leading sire of Grade 1 winners. He is out of the Bernardini broodmare Song of Bernadette.
Thomas also spoke of dual Grade 1 winner Diversify, who breezed an easy half-mile in 51.55 seconds over the Belmont Park training track on Sunday morning.
"He did it comfortably and I thought he did it well," Thomas said. "We'll maintain a weekly schedule with him."
No plans have yet been made for Diversify's 2019 debut. Last year, the New York-bred son of Bellamy Road won the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park and Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.
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Mr. Buff looks to flex his muscles in Big Apple Showcase Day's Commentator; Pacific Gale to target G3 Bed O' Roses
Chester and Mary Broman's New York-homebred Mr. Buff will look to parlay a return engagement in New York into the success he had in the fall and winter as he targets the $200,000 Commentator on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27, as part of Big Apple Showcase Day at Belmont Park.
The 5-year-old gelded son of Friend Or Foe won the Jazil by 5 ½ lengths in his 2019 debut, earning a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his gate-to-wire victory at 1 1/8 miles on January 26 at Aqueduct Racetrack. That capped four straight victories for the John Kimmel trainee, who edged Twisted Tom by a nose to win the Alex M. Robb at the same distance on December 28.
Mr. Buff, stabled at Belmont, has continued to breeze impressively, including a four-furlong work in 47.03 seconds on the main track on Friday, marking the second-fastest in a group of 54.
"He's been training very well and had a really good breeze and galloped out well. He also looked good this morning," Kimmel said on Sunday. "We're on target. He looks good."
Bolstered by his winning streak, Mr. Buff was shipped to Fair Grounds but finished last-of-nine in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap on March 23. Kimmel said he's looking to draw a line through the performance while cutting back to the Commentator distance of one mile.
"The only question mark was, 'why did he throw such a clunker at the race down in Fair Grounds?'" Kimmel said. "He was doing great for that race. I don't know what it was. But many horses who figured to run well that day ran terrible and then came back to run big races. That's what I'm hoping; that it was a track kind of thing. He's doing well, and I hope he rebounds in this race.
"He's been doing so great at a two-turn mile. It'll be a little different [at Belmont's one-turn mile]. He's done well at that distance but it's a little different. I think he likes the two turns, so this will be a challenge for him."
Mr. Buff, who ran eighth in last year's edition of the Commentator, is 2-1-2 in nine career starts at Belmont.
Tobey Morton's Pacific Gale is targeting the Grade 3, $250,000 Bed O' Roses Invitational on Friday, June 7 as part of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, Kimmel said.
Contested at seven furlongs, the 64th edition of the Bed O' Roses, for older fillies and mares going seven furlongs on Big Sandy, will mark Pacific Gale's sixth consecutive graded stakes start, including back-to-back runner-up efforts in both the Grade 3 Distaff on April 5 at Aqueduct and a second-place effort by a neck to Heavenhasmynikki in the Grade 3 Vagrancy on May 11.
"She's improved a lot and it's been really rewarding because I always thought that ability was in there," Kimmel said. "Getting it to come out wasn't always easy. It's been nice to see her come to the forefront of the division.
"I think she had a little bit of traffic problems in her last race and didn't clear until she got inside the eighth pole. She lost on a track that really speed-oriented and she just missed, so hopefully she can appreciate the seven-eighths race back and she'll be pointed to that race Belmont weekend."
Pacific Gale is 1-3-2 in her last eight starts. The 4-year-old Flat Out filly will continue to race on a Belmont track in which she has two wins, a runner-up effort and a third in five career starts.
"I think she appreciates tighter tracks. The time she's run off form, the tracks were a little bit cuppy, but that hasn't been the case at Belmont. She also doesn't mind a wet race track, either," Kimmel said.
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G2 winner Sue Fortune's makes a telling return
Fortune Farm's New York-bred Sue's Fortune earned a career-best 83 Beyer Speed Figure in a winning return to the races on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Trained by Jeremiah Englehart, the Jump Start bay sprinted to a debut victory last July at Belmont in a New York-bred maiden race ahead of her impressive half-length score in the Grade 2 Adirondack at Saratoga.
Sue Fortune stretched out to a mile in October in the Grade 1 Frizette but failed to fire when sixth. The talented filly wintered at Palm Meadows in Florida and made her 3-year-old debut in a difficult optional-claiming event against older New York-bred fillies and mares.
Englehart had considered Friday's Miss Preakness for the return engagement, but said he decided to stay home and skip a bout with track-record setting Covfefe in Baltimore.
"The race in Baltimore came up pretty tough and Covfefe looked like she was sitting on a big race - and she was," said Englehart. "She had been training well for her return. I wanted to find the right spot and that was a tough group of older fillies and mares [at Belmont] and she did well. She came out of the race well this morning."
Englehart said he recognized potential in Sue's Fortune early in her career.
"She always trained well and broke her maiden handily. I saw what Todd [Pletcher] did the year before with Pure Silver and I kind of liked that route for her," said Englehart of the Pletcher trainee, who won the Adirondack before stretching out in the G1 Spinaway. "After that race, we wanted to give her some time for the Frizette, but it ended up being a little too far and too tough for her, so we gave her some time off."
Englehart has yet to decide where Sue's Fortune will make her next start.
Indy's Lady, trained by Englehart for Double O Racing Stable, will make her next start in the $200,000 Critical Eye on Big Apple Showcase Day at Belmont Park.
The 4-year-old daughter or Take Charge Indy, bred in New York by Alan R. Cook, boasts a record of 3-1-2 from 13 starts, including stakes wins in the Lady Finger and Shesastonecoldfox at Finger Lakes.
Indy's Lady earned a career-best 84 Beyer number in February when second in the Maryland Racing Media Stakes, but Englehart said the filly endured a troubled trip last out when fifth in the Dance to Bristol at Charles Town.
"She blew two shoes in her last race at Charles Town, which hurt her chances to run well but she's doing well," said Englehart. "She's a filly that enjoys training at Laurel, so we kept her down there. She always gives a good showing of herself when back in New York-bred company."
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Paradise Creek probables
Monday, May 27: The $100,000 Paradise Creek
Probable: Fog of War (Brown); Mucho (Bill Mott); Pulsate (Ribaudo); Strike Silver (Mark Casse); Uncapped (Brendan Walsh)
Possible: Burnin Ring O Fire (Ollie Figgins); Ian Glass (Tom Morley); Pole Setter (Cox); Veterans Beach (Donk)