A Longley look at the Derby: Bullet work puts War of Will back on the radar

April 19, 2019

By: Rob Longley for Woodbine.com

TORONTO, April 19, 2019 – Out of sight was never going to be out of mind for trainer Mark Casse’s precocious and talented colt, War of Will.

Yes, he misfired with a ninth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby after a troubled start that gave him every excuse to falter for the first time as a three-year-old.

And yes, because the Fairgrounds date was one of the earliest of the final preps for Kentucky-bound contenders, several other prominent runners have zoomed by War of Will in terms of hype, points earnings and credentials.

But when the colt showed up at the work tab at Keeneland last Saturday and blasted a bullet effort of 59 seconds over five furlongs, it was difficult to ignore. Casse took to Twitter with a video of the work shortly after it was done and wrote: “Very pleased with his work this morning.”

And why wouldn’t he be? Casse’s assistant trainer, David Carroll, elaborated on the effort and spoke of a horse that was eager to move forward and get back to business.

“He is a kind horse to be around and in the past week, he has really been on his toes and is very sharp,” Carroll said. “He told us that he was ready for a good workout. In the paddock on his way to the track, he was very playful.”

Jockey Tyler Gaffalone was on hand for the work and was even more impressed, particularly with the ease in which War of Will moved.

“He broke sharp and had running on his mind,” Gaffalione said. “He did everything very easy. Mark said he wanted a good five-eighths, so I just let him do his thing. He cruised along and pulled up great and came back happy. He is really proud of himself.”

With 60 Road to the Kentucky Derby points, War of Will, who began his career as a two-year-old on the Woodbine turf, is comfortably in the field for the opening jewel of the Triple Crown. The potential field was essentially finalized after the completion of last weekend’s Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes and WOW currently sits 12th in those standings.

Casse plans one more work at Keeneland before shipping War of Will across the state to Louisville where he will train up to the May 4th Run for the Roses.

TO THE BEACH

When jockey Mike Smith took a day to ponder Omaha Beach’s impressive and triumphant winning effort in the Arkansas Derby, he was also providing one of the most significant early handicapping exercises for the Derby.

And when Smith opted for the Beach over trainer Bob Baffert’s emerging Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster, it was an eye opener.

“I would not be surprised if either Omaha Beach or Roadster won the Derby,” Smith told the Albany Times Union’s Tim Wilkin. “If they don’t win, I think they are going to run well, but there are more than just those two in there. Omaha Beach just seems to be getting better, the ‘now’ horse.”

After getting Smith’s news, Baffert wasted little time securing Floret Geroux for Roadster.

“It’s a tough call for (the jockeys),” Baffert said. “The worst thing to do is put them on and they are watching the other horse the whole time.”

AND THE FAVOURITE IS?

Kentucky Derby morning-line maker Mike Battaglia won’t reveal his official odds until post positions are drawn during Derby week, but he has tipped his hand as to the directions he is leaning.

And yes, Battaglia intends to follow Smith’s lead and make Omaha Beach the favourite, telling the Louisvile Courier-Journal that the Richard Mandella colt will likely be listed in the 4-1 to 5-1 range.

“It says a lot that he took off a Baffert horse, and Roadster was really impressive winning the Santa Anita Derby,” Battaglia told the paper. “But Mike has been on (Omaha Beach) twice now, and he’s improved both times. And it means a lot to have that experience of a Mike Smith in the Derby. He’s not going to panic.”

DERBY TOP FIVE

1. Omaha Beach, trainer Richard Mandella

We tentatively put him on top of our list last week and after that impressive Arkansas Derby victory, here he shall remain. The colt is confident and versatile and seems to be getting stronger with each outing. The Mike Smith decision to ride him virtually assures he will be the post time favourite.

2. Tacitus, trainer Bill Mott

Status quo for this guy based on his Wood Memorial win and the fact that he, like Omaha Beach, ships to Louisville riding a two-race win streak. He took some heat early in the wood, recovered and then ran gamely throughout.

3. Roadster, trainer Bob Baffert

Based on his Santa Anita Derby effort, we considered putting him on top and he certainly fits among the top contenders. Gets the slight nod among the three-horse Baffert cavalry headed to Churchill Downs, though we could see any one of the three prevailing.

4. Game Winner, trainer Bob Baffert

A runner-up finish to his stablemate in the Santa Anita Derby is not a knock that worries us much given that it’s highly unlikely Baffert had him 100 per cent cranked up for that effort. Though he’s had a pair of runner-up efforts as a three-year-old, he’s still the two-year-old champion and a serious horse.

5. War of Will, trainer Mark Casse

Lost some supporters with his troubled trip in the Louisiana Derby, a race that you can toss given his stumble at the start. The Casse barn was super encouraged after his most recent work and given his physical stature and two stakes wins already this year, looms as a serious threat in the Derby and one that could fetch a decent price.

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 Follow Rob Longley’s weekly column on Woodbine.com chronicling the path to the Kentucky Derby, set for Saturday, May 4 at Churchill Downs. Be sure to join us in celebrating the first jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown at Woodbine’s annual exclusive Derby Day Party featuring fabulous food, fashion and entertainment. Tickets are now on sale at Ticketmaster.ca.
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