Two years ago, trainer Mark Casse endured a tough loss in the Preakness (G1) with his juvenile champion Classic Empire, who was edged in the final yards by Cloud Computing after dueling most of the way with Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming.
Two weeks ago, the Casse-trained War of Will was near the center of a firestorm at the Derby as the first horse impeded by first-place finisher Maximum Security around the far turn. Although the connections of War of Will, who retreated to eighth place, did not claim foul against the winner, others did, which resulted in the historic disqualification of Maximum Security.
On Saturday, in the $1.65 million renewal of the Preakness at Pimlico, not only did Casse get to erase any lingering thoughts of Classic Empire's loss but of War of Will's Derby as well, when the son of War Front provided both Casse and trainer Tyler Gaffalione with their first classic success.
"This was about letting him show how good he is, and I didn't feel he had that shot in the Derby," Casse said. "You just want them to have a fair chance to show their true ability, and I just felt like he never got that."
Enjoying an ideal, ground-saving trip throughout from post 1, War of Will rated behind a quick pace set by Warrior's Charge, who set fractions of :22.50 and :46.16, with Market King and Anothertwistafate in close pursuit. Warrior's Charge continued to hold a one-length advantage through six furlongs in 1:10.56.
Entering the stretch, a hole opened up inside of Warrior's Charge for War of Will to go through, and the long-striding bay took advantage. Surging to the lead from a tiring Warrior's Charge, he opened up in deep stretch and easily held safe the late rallies of longshot Everfast and Owendale to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Sent away at odds of 6-1, War of Will paid $14.20 after completing the distance in 1:54.34 over a fast track. Everfast, a 29-1 longshot after going unplaced in three straight races following a second in the Holy Bull (G2) in early February, turned in a surprise rally to win a head bob for second by a nose over Owendale, who made a very wide bid in upper stretch. The order of finish was rounded out by Warrior's Charge, Laughing Fox, 5-2 favorite Improbable, Win Win Win, Bourbon War, Signalman, Anothertwistafate, Alwaysmining, and Market King.
There was some intra-race drama involving Bodexpress, who bucked at the start and immediately unseated jockey John Velazquez. Outriders were unable to grab Bodexpress and the maiden completed the course with the rest of the Preakness field, but did not appear to cause any trouble during the running. Both he and Velazquez appeared uninjured.
Owned by Gary Barber, who was in France and not present at Pimlico on Saturday, War of Will developed into a leading classic candidate with impressive victories earlier this season in the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds. However, as the odds-on favorite in the Louisiana Derby (G2), War of Will lost action in his hind end soon after the start and finished a well-beaten ninth. He exited the race with a strained patella ligament, and his Kentucky Derby status was for a time in doubt.
Not having a proper prep in 11 weeks, War of Will's performance in the Kentucky Derby could be viewed, in retrospect, as admirable. After being forced into other rivals by Maximum Security, War of Will plugged along in the stretch and was only beaten 4 1/2 lengths at the finish.
Starting his career on turf, War of Will finished third in his debut, second in the Summer (G1), fourth in the Bourbon (G1), and fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). He finally broke his maiden when trying dirt for the first time at Churchill Downs on November 24. He was later favored in all three of his Kentucky Derby preps in New Orleans. His record now stands at 10-4-1-1, $1,491,569.
Bred in Kentucky by Flaxman Holdings, War of Will was produced by the stakes-winning Visions of Clarity, a Sadler's Wells mare also responsible for Irish highweight juvenile Pathfork and stakes winner Tacticus. Visions of Clarity is a half-sister to Irish classic and Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) winner Spinning World.