By: Rob Longley for Woodbine.com
TORONTO, May 3, 2019 – Rather than worry publicly about drawing the dreaded inside post for the Kentucky Derby, trainer Mark Casse is opting to take the “if there is a will, there is a way” approach this Saturday.
Yes, War of Will seems to be the forgotten horse in this year’s 145th edition of the Run for The Roses and yes the Casse trainee has his work cut out from him after drawing what many feel to be the worst spot to race from in America’s most storied race, Post 1.
But the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee went in search of positives as soon as his son of War Front suffered a less-than-favourable draw. Rather than gripe about it, Casse went to work when he returned to his hotel room on Tuesday and poured himself a Kentucky-sized glass half full.
“I went and I watched 20 Derbys last night from the one-hole,” Casse told reporters in Louisville. “I did. And I’ve decided it’s a good post. I mean it has won nine per cent of the time, which is better’s than Bob (Baffert)’s 17 (with Roadster) which has never won – and I told him that too.”
In his research, Casse noted that eight Derby winners have done so from the rail position, though the glass half empty spin to that optimism is that it hasn’t happened since Ferdinand did so in 1986. The best recent result was longshot Lookin At Lee riding the rail to the runner-up spot in 2017.
“You know what, it could be worse I think,” Casse said. “Our horse is really on his game so he’ll come away from there running. We’ll probably be on the lead. I think we’ll probably be on the lead and play catch me if you can.
“At least we have the shortest way around. I’ve thought I had great draws before and gotten wiped out so maybe this is the change.”
We’re starting to think that War of Will knows that he is very very handsome. pic.twitter.com/DL6emDoqzY
— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) May 2, 2019
Not many are inclined to give War of Will much of a shot in this year’s Derby. Morning-line maker Mike Battaglia set 20-1 as his early odds and ever since his rough start in a troubled trip in the Lousiana Derby, a colt once thought to be the top contender is viewed by most as an outsider.
But the absence of the lukewarm early favourite, Omaha Beach, has left what was already considered a wide-open field even more contentious.
If there is good news about drawing the rail – where horses tended to get buried by the cavalry charge that is the opening quarter-mile of the Derby – it is that he has the speed to establish position. In fact, Casse believes War of Will is one of the best horses out of the gate that he has worked with.
“He has to break. The good news is, he’s probably one of the best breaking horses that I’ve ever trained,” Casse said. “If he doesn’t break, it’s on to the Preakness.”
Rain in the forecast isn’t a positive for the 150,000-plus expected at Churchill Downs, but it may be for War of Will. The colt broke his maiden at the historic Louisville track on November 24, a surface so sloppy it was sealed.
“(An off track) is not going to hurt our feelings,” Casse said.
WIDE OPEN DERBY
Even before Omaha Beach was scratched, this year’s opening jewel of the Triple Crown was considered a value hunter’s delight.
Add to the fact that an off track is quite possible and it is even more so.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who has a powerful three-horse entry of Improbable, two-year-old champion Game Winner and Roadster, believes it is just that.
“(This year) reminds me a little bit of the Silver Charm derby (in 1997),” Baffert said of his first victory in the Run for the Roses. “You had a lot of good three-year-olds in there and whoever gets the trip is going to win it.”
After bringing in heavy favourite and eventual Triple Crown champ Justify a year ago, Baffert has enjoyed having a little less pressure-based attention this May.
“I think it’s nice to not come in here as the heavy favourite, you can just enjoy the week more,” Baffert said. “Last year, we came in here with Justify and we knew it was my race to lose. So I felt a little extra pressure.
“There are a lot of good horses in here. I think they’re a pretty evenly matched group of horses. You don’t see anybody like really puffing off the screen here. When (2015 Triple Crown winner) American Pharoah came in here, we knew he was from on another planet.”
DERBY TOP FIVE
1. Tacitus, trainer Bill Mott
With the scratch of Omaha Beach, this Wood Memorial winner slides up into our top slot as we look to duplicate our call of Justify and Good Magic finishing one-two a year ago. He’s durable, a proven winner and comes from the barn of a Hall of Fame trainer. That’s good enough for us.
2. Roadster, trainer Bob Baffert
We’re reasonably confident that a Baffert colt will finish in the top three – and quite possibly win it – but the difficulty is handicapping the most logical of that threesome. We’ll lean towards Roadster based on his win in the Santa Anita Derby and the big expectations Baffert had for him last summer.
3. Game Winner, trainer Bob Baffert
The two-year-old champ is talented, this we know. We’re not overly worried that he hasn’t secured a victory in two starts as a three-year-old but he has some proving to do. We may see on Sunday if Baffert was holding something back.
4. War of Will, trainer Mark Casse
Yes, he stumbled badly in his last start (literally almost going to his knees a few jumps out of he gate) and yes, he drew the dreaded rail. But Casse has been talking confidently about his chances and believes he has the speed and talent to contend. A nice-priced addition to any tractor ticket, in our view.
5. Maximum Security, trainer Jason Servis
The mystery horse of the field given his training schedule and background, but the Florida Derby win gives him instant credibility. We like the fact that he has the speed to establish position and the post (seven) to help even more and thus debut him in the most important week of them all.
Advance wagering on the Kentucky Derby card, including an Oaks/Derby Double, Pick 3 and Pick 6, will be available on Friday at all Woodbine Entertainment locations, beginning at 3 p.m. Advance Pick pools will not be open on Friday until the conclusion of the live Churchill Downs program (approximately 7 p.m.).
Churchill Downs’ first race on Friday and Saturday will be at 10:30 a.m. Mutuels will open at approximately 11 a.m. on Friday and 10:15 a.m. on Saturday at Woodbine.
Woodbine will host its third annual Derby Day Party celebrating the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby with a viewing of the first jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown from Churchill Downs. Tickets to the must-attend social event can be purchased at Ticketmaster.ca.