By Gulfstream Press Staff – Trainer Mark Casse believes the performance by Gary Barber’s War of Will in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) may have been good enough to win had he gotten a better trip. War of Will’s fifth-place finish, though, turned to be a blessing in disguise.
“He could have easily won the Breeders’ Cup. If he had, we wouldn’t maybe be a Preakness winner today,” Casse said. “He had a terrible trip in the Breeders’ Cup. 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.”
The son of War Front closed out his 2-year-old campaign with a maiden victory at Churchill Downs in his dirt debut and went on the following year to capture the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico, providing his trainer with his first success in a Triple Crown event, which surely played a significant role in his election into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, which was announced Wednesday.
War of Will, who ran four more races on dirt last year without success, is scheduled to return to turf for his 2020 debut in Saturday’s $75,000 Sunshine Forever at Gulfstream Park. First race post time is 12:15 p.m. for the 12-race program.
“We’re looking at his stallion prospects. 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,” Casse said. “That doesn’t mean that one day he won’t go back and try dirt.”
Although winless in four starts on turf during his 2-year-old season, the son of War Front was Grade 1 stakes-placed, finishing second in the Summer Stakes (G1) at Woodbine, beaten by less than a length.
“He’s bred top and bottom [for turf]. If you look at his breeding, you’d be surprised at how good he is on dirt,” Casse said. “But he’s such a talented horse, he can do things others can’t.”
After graduating in his dirt debut, War of Will won the LeComte (G3) by four lengths and Risen Star (G2) by 2 ¾ lengths at Fair Grounds to stamp himself as a serious Triple Crown prospect.
He disappointed with a ninth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2), in which he lost his action early, before finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), in which he was interfered with by Maximum Security, who was disqualified from first for sharply veering to the outside on the turn into the stretch.
War of Will rebounded in spectacular fashion two weeks later to win the Preakness by 1 ½ lengths before finishing off the board in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He completed his 3-year-old campaign with a fifth-place finish in the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga, a third-place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx and a ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita.
“I think he’s grown up. He looks wonderful. He’s filled out. He’s always been a beautiful horse,” Casse said. “He was going long and hard for a long time. This was his first rest in some time. It did him well.”
In preparation for his 2020 debut, War of Will has had a strong series of seven workouts, three on turf, at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County.
“We purposely slowed him down in his last work. He’s a great work horse and he does it with such ease. His last grass work was amazing, not just what he did during the work but what he did after. He just took off afterwards,” Casse said. “He’s a happy horse right now.”
Tyler Gaffalione, who was aboard for the Preakness Stakes, has the return mount aboard War of Will.
Robert LaPenta, AJ Suited Racing Stable LLC and Madaket Stables LLC’s Hawkish is also scheduled to make his 2020 debut Saturday, starting for the first time since October.
“He’s going really well. He’s had a steady work schedule. His last breeze was absolutely great, and he’s ready to go,” trainer Jimmy Toner said. “It’s a tough race to get started with, but you’ve got to start sometime.”
The 5-year-old son of Artie Schiller has run well over the Gulfstream Park turf while coming off a layoff, finishing second in the 2019 Appleton (G3), in which he was jostled at the start before closing with a rush to fall a half-length short of catching Dr. Edgar. He also made his career debut at Gulfstream with a victory in January 2018.
“When he broke his maiden here, it was his first time out. When we brought him back last year off the layoff, he finished second to Dr. Edgar off the layoff,” Toner said. “It’s not like he’s a horse that can’t run off a layoff. You can train him. He’s a pretty handy horse.”
After breaking his maiden at Gulfstream, Hawkish went on to win the Penn Mile (G2) at Penn National by three lengths before finishing off the board in the Belmont Derby (G1).
Hawkish went to the sidelines for over nine mounts before finishing second in the Appleton and going on to win the Cliff Hanger at Monmouth. He was out of action for another months before finishing off the board in the Belmont Turf Sprint in October.
“We’ve had some hiccups along the way. If we could just get him into a good rhythm, I think he could have a very good year,” Toner said.
Emisael Jaramillo is scheduled to ride Hawkish for the first time Saturday.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is represented by two horses in the field of 12 (plus a main-track entrant) for the 1 1/16-mile Sunshine Forever – The Elkstone Group Inc.’s Social Paranoia and Harrell Ventures LLC’s Halladay.
Social Paranoia came off a six-month layoff to capture the Appleton on the undercard of the March 28 Florida Derby (G1). The 4-year-old son of Street Boss broke his maiden over the Gulfstream Turf in March 2019 before placing in the American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs, the Pennine Ridge (G3) at Belmont and the Belmont Derby (G1).
Edgard Zayas has the call on the Social Paranoia.
Halladay won twice in three starts during the Championship Meet at Gulfstream, including a victory in the Tropical Park Derby and a last-out allowance. Luis Saez has the return call aboard the 4-year-old son of War Front.
Sam-Son Farm’s El Tormenta will be looking to rebound from an subpar performance in the Appleton, in which he was rank early and lost a lot of ground from his No. 12 post position.
The 5-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic, who was making his 2020 debut in the Appleton, closed out his 2019 campaign with a victory in the Woodbine Mile (G1) and a sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
Dylan Davis is scheduled to ride El Tormenta for the first time Saturday.
Amerman Racing LLC’s Admission Office was Grade 2 stakes-placed twice during the Championship Meet, finishing a close second in the Fort Lauderdale Dec. 14 and the Mac Diarmida Feb. 29.
Those efforts were sandwiched around an eighth-place finish in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Turf (G1) won by Zulu Alpha, who beat Admission office by a length in the Mac Diarmida.
Joel Rosario was named to ride Admission Office.
Highland Sky, Regally Irish, Collum Road, Aquaphobia and Sand Dancer round out the field. Just Whistle is a main-track-only entrant.