By Ryan Martin
• Casse Hopes War of Will Wows Competition in Lecomte
• Cornacchia, Gun It Clash in Thursday Allowance
• McPeek Attempts Second Straight Silverbulletday Win with Fun Finder
CASSE HOPES WAR OF WILL WOWS COMPETITION IN LECOMTE
They call him ‘Wow’.
Sure it’s an acronym for his name, but it’s also the first thought that came to mind when the connections of Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes contender of War of Will watched him train early on.
Owned by Gary Barber and trained by Mark Casse, the 3-year-old son of War Front showed promise even prior to kicking off his career, which is why Casse ran him against graded stakes company three times as a maiden. However, it wasn’t until his fifth career start in his main track debut where he displayed winning fashion.
“He’s a horse that we loved as soon as my brother (Justin Casse) bought him,” Casse said. “Our assistant Jamie Begg had him for about two weeks at Belmont and said that he was special. We kind of rushed him into his maiden race and I thought he would have a good chance to win the (Grade I) Summer Stakes (at Woodbine). Finally, in the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile Turf) he had a really wide trip so he ran an exceptionally well fifth considering the hand that was dealt to him. Early on, we felt like he needed to stay on grass, but he trains as good as a horse can train on the dirt.”
It was after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf where Casse decided that he needed some main track experience, so he ran him in a two-turn maiden special weight event over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs, where he was guided by Tyler Gaffalione under a hand ride.
“I personally don’t think he could’ve won any more impressive and it was a solid field,” Casse said. “He ran ten one hundredths of a second slower than the (Grade II) Kentucky Jockey Club. Tyler geared him down in the last sixteenth so no doubt he could’ve run faster than the Kentucky Jockey Club. All that said, we like our chances.”
As of Wednesday, the National Weather Service calls for a heavy chance of precipitation for Saturday.
“Weather could play a factor even though I think a little moisture in the track won’t hurt our feelings,” Casse said. “This is a heck of a race, it’s going to be a trip It’s a mile and 70 yards with a big field and quick run to the first turn. You’re going to need luck and it can’t be bad.”
An international acquisition, Casse’s brother Justin bought War of Will from the Arqana May Two-Year-Old Breeze Up Sale in France last year. He is out of the Sadler’s Wells broodmare Visions of Clarity (Ire.) who is a half sibling to multiple Group 1 winner Spinning World who won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1997. Other than War of Will, she also produced Irish Group 1 winner Pathfork and two-time dirt marathon stakes winner Tacticus.
Casse also sends out Mo Speed in the Lecomte, but the son of Uncle Mo is still not definite to run.
“We’re still contemplating it,” Casse said. “He hasn’t proven that he is that caliber, but I do see the race possibly setting up for him. We may run him just to see how he fits in the big picture. It’s a discussion that I need to have with the owners and it probably won’t be decided until the day of the race.”
A half-million dollar purchase from Four Star Sales at the Fasig-Tipton August Yearling Sale in Saratoga, Mo Speed is out of the three-time winning Storm Boot broodmare Bootery who also produced four-time graded stakes winning millionaire Neck ‘n Neck.
CORNACCHIA, GUN IT CLASH IN THURSDAY ALLOWANCE
While Saturday’s Grade III $200,000 Lecomte is the most high-profile race of the week, a Thursday allowance also features some of the most promising sophomores on the grounds.
Thursday’s fifth event is a two-turn first level allowance race on the main track which features the likes of impressive maiden winners Cornacchia and Gun It, both of whom are royally bred and show extremely high potential.
Trained by two-time Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots leading trainer Brad Cox, Cornacchia was an impressive winner in his six-furlong career debut, where he was angled five wide down the stretch but managed to get his nose first on the wire.
“He overcame some things in his first start and he’s had some good works since,” Cox said. “This is the next step to just stretch him out a little bit. It’s a solid group of horses. He’s always trained well and acted like a racehorse. We’re asking him to run against winners and two turns for the first time, but he’s one that we think a lot of.”
Named in honor of the late co-owner of Kentucky Derby winners Strike the Gold and Go For Gin, Cornacchia is by prolific stallion Tapit and is out of the two-time graded stakes winning Orientate broodmare Great Hot (Brz.).
“He’s very intelligent, that seems to be his best attribute,” Cox said. “He’s well-bred so we hope that he can be a graded stakes horse down the road.”
He will be guided by Florent Geroux.
Bragging an even more prestigious pedigree is Gun It, who broke his maiden by 4¼ lengths under a hand ride by Ricardo Santana, Jr. on December 22.
Owned by Three Chimneys Farm and Whisper Hill Farm, the Steve Asmussen trainee by Tapit is the first foal out of the Grade I-placed Miss Besilu. At a cool $2.6 million, he was the second most expensive horse acquired out of the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale where he was consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency. He comes from the same family as 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner and 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam.
“He’s a colt that is still learning how to put it all together,” said Three Chimneys President Doug Cauthen. “Steve just wanted to follow the conservative route and we wanted to follow his advice. We’re very happy with his last effort, it was a good progression and it was a great learning race. Once he figured out it was time to hit the front he did it and did it nicely. Hopefully there is still plenty under the tank.”
Both of Gun It’s career starts took place going two turns. Prior to his victory last time out, he made his career debut going one mile-and-a-sixteenth at Churchill Downs where he finished fourth behind three eventual winners in King Ford, Harvey Wallbanger and Johny’s Bobby.
“I’m sure Brad’s horse will handle two turns fine, but at least we know Gun It has already done it,” Cauthen said. “The key is to make a progression forward. He’s a very willing horse and I think he just has to keep learning, maturing both physically and mentally.”
Cauthen spoke of Gun It’s relative Gun Runner who stands at Three Chimneys Farm and should have his first foals arriving very soon.
“We’re looking forward to seeing his first foals,” Cauthen said. “He’s transitioned very well, he likes his job has a great book of mares, a lot of young mares, proven mares, cross sections of pedigrees and performance to give him a variety of chances to hit the right nicks.”
Gun It will be guided by Ricardo Santana, Jr. and is the 7-5 favorite for Thursday’s race.
MCPEEK ATTEMPTS SECOND STRAIGHT SILVERBULLETDAY WIN WITH FUN FUNDER
One year ago, trainer Kenny McPeek sprung a 33-1 upset in the Silverbulletday Stakes with Stronger Than Ever. On Saturday, he hopes that lightning strikes twice with Fun Finder, whom he believes has the potential to be even better than last year’s winner.
Owned by Magdalena Racing, the 3-year-old daughter of leading first-crop sire Cross Traffic enters the first local prep for the Grade I Longines Kentucky Oaks off of a 7¼ length maiden win at Gulfstream Park on December 16, which was won at second asking.
“She’s doing super,” McPeek said. “I think she’s as good as or better than what we won with last year. She’s quicker and definitely lighter on her feet, (Stronger Than Ever) was more of a grinder. This filly showed speed stretching out last time and she’s begging for two turns.”
Fun Finder has been getting acclimated to the Fair Grounds surface for about a couple of weeks now and has stabled with trainer Eric Heitzmann, a former assistant to McPeek. On January 11, she breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 over the local main track. Heitzmann will saddle Fun Finder in Saturday’s race, where she breaks from the rail at 12-1 odds under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr.
Fun Finder was purchased for $50,000 from the Fasig-Tipton October Yearling Sale in 2017, where she was consigned by Indian Creek. She was bred in Kentucky by Two Hearts Farm and is out of the Storm Cat broodmare Stormy Monday who produced graded stakes placed Pinkarella.