By John Pricci

HALLANDALE BEACH—Adages become old because they’re true: The best horse doesn’t always win the Derby but usually wins the Preakness is one. Here’s another: There’s no place like home.

Feeling a form of reflected pride Sunday morning because I spent Preakness Day at my home county racetrack, which very much was fitting considering the results of Preakness 144.

My first thought was for a 24-year-old third generation race rider, Tyler Gaffalione, born 20 minutes up the road from Gulfstream Park in Davie.

For those unaware, Davie is horse country, located square in the middle of an urban sprawl that is modern-day Broward County, specifically, situated between Hollywood and Plantation, my latter-day home.

Once again, the local racetrack and, specifically, the Florida racing community is where both “winners” of the 2019 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness hero either raced, trained or spent time here this winter.

Ocala, a five-hour drive north of Gulfstream by heavy foot, is true Florida horse country, a place where major horses are bought and sold and home to many Thoroughbred farms. One of those farms belongs to War of Will’s trainer, Canadian Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse.

The one element absent from an otherwise Hollywood script, in which a seriously impeded, brave and athletic animal, who fought valiantly at the top of the Churchill Downs stretch before tiring, returned two weeks later to redeem the reputation he built this winter in New Orleans.

And no one should be more acquainted with a Hollywood script--a Hollywood California script--than owner Gary Barber. While he was winning his first classic, he was an ocean away in Cannes France, home of the world’s most prestigious film festival. Go Figure.

Of course, Barber can be wherever he wants after collecting a $260-million buyout from MGM, the schism the result of creative differences between Barber and an investment banker who lorded over the MGM board of directors.

It’s not like Barber doesn’t recognize talent. He begat Mark Casse, who begat Norm Casse, who begat War of Will, who begat Tyler Gaffalione, and he thought it a good idea to switch War of Will from a moderately successful turf career to dirt. That move wasn’t the first of Barber’s success stories.

The Preakness winning trainer is also second generation, his father being the legendary Norm Casse, a top horseman and a man who knew how to cash a bet. Casse, who passed three years ago, built the Ocala farm that helped make the Florida breeding program the success it is today.

As MGM CEO, he brought the company back to respectability by bringing successful television producers into the MGM fold. That move begat successful properties such as Survivor, The Voice, Shark Tank, the television series Fargo and the multiple award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale.

All Barber's entertainment ventures eventually evolved into the Spyglass Media Group, launched earlier this year.

A quarter-billion will buy lots of good horses, including a son of War Front, from a Sadler’s Wells stakes-producing mare, for the bargain price of $298,550 at a 2-year-old breeze-up sale, haltered by Justin Casse, who grew up in Saratoga. Today War of Will is worth a whole lot more.

It’s a fact that too often these days, horsemen toss around the term “special horse.” Well, whatever anyone thinks of the talented War of Will, horse lovers only need look at this magnificent beast to know that he’s special. On looks, he’s the perfect racehorse.

“I just wanted him to get his chance to show everyone how good he is because he is a super horse,” said his South Florida-based rider, who added “I’m very happy for Mark to get his first Classic and happy for the horse…he’s so special.”

Louisville Kentucky native Dale Romans did an extraordinary job coaxing the kind of explosive effort he got from runnerup Everfast: “Second in any Classic is great…You could see he had the momentum. I thought we were going to win it for a minute.”

Brad Cox, who also grew up in the shadow of Churchill 51,573 and $22.28 million, respectively. The betting mark was 19+ percent higher than the previous mark set in 2017. A total of 28 races were contested over the two days.

But the sudden death of stakes-winning 3-year-old filly Congrats Girl upon pulling up after the G3 Miss Preakness cast a shroud over the day.

The tragedy compounded what happened that morning at Santa Anita when Commander Coil, not asked for speed during a routine gallop, fractured his shoulder and had to be euthanized. The Los Angeles- and New York Times ran with the breakdown stories which included strong comments from PETA Vice-President Kathy Guillermo.

Horses Don’t Set Track Records, Track Superintendents Do


Covfefe, who raced 6 furlongs in 1:07.70, shattering a 19-year-old track record set by older male Northern Wolf, was not the only horse in record breaking terrain Preakness weekend.

Later on the ‘Suzy’ card, 4-year-old filly Mylady Curlin, like Covfefe in the care of super trainer Brad Cox, was in stakes-record territory in the G3 Allaire DuPont, posting nine furlongs in 1:47.64, 44/100s off male Private Terms’ track record 1:47.20.

In the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard for not-quite-ready-for-prime-time 3-year-olds, returnee King for a Day eclipsed Deputed Testamony’s stakes record of 1:41.80, getting 8-1/2 furlongs in 1:41.40.

Further, most races developed in the manner of bygone Pimlico days when horses racing closest to the rail, on or in contact with early leaders, enjoyed a distinct edge.

Plethora of Good Performances on Entertaining Undercards

Chalon was extremely sharp in her 5-year-old debut, taking the Skipat in an authoritative 1:09.46, good but not in the same league with younger Covfefe a half-hour later… Most times you don't know when Tenfold will show up, but he answered the bell affirmatively in the Pimlico Special; interesting to see what he does next time.

Meanwhile, place and show finishers, You’re to Blame and Cordmaker, both came with strong late runs and might have entered the circle with better trips--especially the latter, racing extremely wide from impossible possible in the back of the 14-horse field.

Missing the Kentucky Oaks wasn’t in the plans for Point of Honor’s people, but it might turn out to be a blessing for the G2 Black-Eyed Susan winner. Oaks winning Serengeti Princess runs next in the Acorn. Should she win that and, say, Point of Honor wins the Mother Goose, a great match-up could happen in Saratoga’s Alabama.

Who do you want going a mile and a quarter..?

Another terrific team effort by Steve Asmussen and Ricardo Santana Jr., taking the G3 Maryland Sprint with New York Central who continues to develop at 4, extending his unbeaten record at six furlongs to three straight; no excuses for perfect tripper Proforma.

Ickymasho is a very talented turf marathoner for legendary Roger Attfield but the competition all but led her into the circle as they allowed her to set a laughably slow pace [51.62, 1:17.18]. Second favorite Homeland Security was a terribly disappointing 3rd.

Country’s House
’s older sister is an excellent turf runner for Bill Mott. Keen but no runoff beneath Joel Rosario, Mitchell Road spread out the G3 Gallorette field but kept right on going, looking very much a Grade 1 prospect, continuing strongly despite her early exertions.

Can’t say enough about Catholic Boy, not wound tightly for his 4-year-old debut but the classy dual surface Grade 1 winner is what you want in a racehorse; tactical speed and late kick. Javier Castellano, who won one for the thumb Friday, was a little rough at the break, sawing off Inspector Lynley. Returning to dirt, the Brooklyn is next for Catholic Boy.

Gary West has not necessarily covered himself with glory in the wake of the Derby disqualification; first with video leading to litigation and the now infamous $20 million sore-loser challenge. But give him this: West texted congratulations to Mark Casse right after the Preakness. Good for him!

copyright John Pricci, HorseRaceInsider, May, 2019