By Ryan Martin

•              War of Will Pleases Casse in Final Breeze for Grade II Risen Star

•              Walsh Hopes for Better Luck with Plus Que Parfait

•              Sisterson Confident in Oxy Lady

•              Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks Under Consideration for Tasting the Stars


At this point, trainer Mark Casse knows what to expect when War of Will steps foot onto the racetrack. On Saturday morning the Grade III Lecomte Stakes winner solidified Casse’s belief that he deserves be considered a major contender on the Road To The Kentucky Derby.

The 3-year-old son of War Front hit the track at 5:30 a.m. and went a swift half-mile in 47.20 in preparation for the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes next Saturday. The move was the second fastest of 136 recorded works at the distance.

War of Will earned 10 points on Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby when taking the Lecomte Stakes. He could earn 50 more with a victory in the Risen Star Stakes, where he drew post 14 as the 5-1 morning line favorite.

“I don’t think that he could have worked any better (on Saturday) so that was good,” Casse said. “It’s pretty well the same bunch that he’ll be up against. Obviously the post is outside but we’d rather be out there than inside. He’s got enough speed so he’ll get over and if he’s as good as we think he is it shouldn’t matter.”

Owned by Gary Barber, War of Will is an unbeaten two-for-two over the main track. He won his main track debut over the Churchill Downs dirt by five lengths in hand-ride fashion before his Lecomte Stakes triumph. His prior four starts took place over grass and included a second-place finish in the Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine in September of last year.

Purchased by Casse’s brother Justin from the Arqana Two-Year-Olds In Training Breeze Up Sale in France last May for $298,550, War of Will is out of the Sadler’s Wells broodmare Visions of Clarity (Ire.) who is a half-sister to 1997 Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Spinning World. Visions of Clarity also produced Pathfork – the winner of the Group 1 Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at The Curragh in 2010. Other members of his family include Grade I turf winners Good Journey and Denon as well as Aldebaran, a three-time Grade I winner on dirt.

Casse also sent out Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap winner First Premio for a half-mile work in preparation for the Grade III $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap. Owned by Team Valor, the 5-year-old son of Pure Prize completed his work in :49.00.

He will break from post six for the Fair Grounds Handicap under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr.

“He went nice this morning,” Casse said. “First Premio gave us such a big effort in his last start. Hopefully he doesn’t regress from that. That would be my biggest concern there. I think if things were to go well with him and we could get him into a nice race pattern and keep him healthy he could be one of the better turf horses around this year.’

First Premio won the Colonel E. R. Bradley off of a seven-month layoff. His prior start was a fifth-place finish in the Grade II King Edward Stakes at Woodbine last June.

Speaking of layoffs, Casse will race Flameaway after a six-month hiatus in the Grade III $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap. The 4-year-old son of Scat Daddy has not raced since a seventh-place effort in the Grade III Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing last August.

“It’s not an easy race,” Casse said. “It’s tough when you have a horse of his caliber and you have to run against the big bunch. Not only is he coming off a layoff but he’s got to run against older guys. He’s doing well and he should run well.”

Owned by John Oxley, Flameaway worked a half-mile in :49.00 on Saturday morning. A stakes winner on both dirt and turf, Flameaway’s last win came when taking the Grade II Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs last year. Other stakes wins on his resume include turf triumphs in Saratoga’s Skidmore Stakes and the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Keeneland.

“Mr. Oxley and I spoke and we want to give him another try on dirt,” Casse said. “Depending on his effort next weekend, we could always go back to the grass.”

Flameaway will break from post nine with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons.

Bred in Ontario by Phoenix Rising Farm, Flameaway is out of the Fusaichi Pegasus broodmare Vulcan Rose who is a half to Grade II turf winner Essential Edge. His third dam is Fame of Tara (Ire.) – a Group 2 winner in England and Ireland who produced multiple Group 1 winner Salsabil (Ire.). Flameway was purchased for $400,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale in 2016, where he was consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency.


Things didn’t go the way trainer Brendan Walsh hoped that they would when Plus Que Parfait raced in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes last out. However, like any good horseman following a series of unfortunate events, he is putting it behind him and hopes that the son of Point of Entry will see a more favorable outcome in next Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes.

Owned by Imperial Racing, Plus Que Parfait raced fifth in the Lecomte Stakes after losing a shoe, drawing the 12 hole and stumbling coming out of the gate. All things considered, Walsh believes his horse put up a solid effort. 

“He ran a good race last time,” Walsh said. “I think had he not stumbled it would have had an extra length or two and he would have been more prominent. It was a lot of small things that went against him. He didn’t run a bad race.”

Plus Que Parfait has proven capable of beating good horses. In his maiden special weight victory at third asking, he defeated eventual graded stakes winner Harvey Wallbanger as well as next out winners Cutting Humor, Absolute Control and Tactical Quality over the main track at Keeneland in October. He was a hard-fought second next out in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs behind Signalman and finished ahead of graded stakes winner Kicks Go and Current.

“Between his maiden win and the Kentucky Jockey Club he’s run some solid races,” Walsh said. “Hopefully we won’t have as many excuses this time. You hate to be making a bunch of excuses, but hopefully this time we’ll get a better trip and see how good he is.”

Plus Que Parfait recorded his final work in preparation for the Risen Star Stakes on Saturday morning and went five furlongs in 1:01.40.

“He worked great,” Walsh said. “He’s not one that would blow your socks off when watching him work but I thought he worked great and came back and was pretty much exactly what we wanted. It seems like the horse is doing well.”

Walsh will not have to worry about an outside post this time around as Plus Que Parfait drew the rail in the full field of 14 and will be guided by Julien Leparoux.

Bred in Kentucky by Calloway Stables, Plus Que Parfait was purchased by Oracle Bloodstock from Vinery Sales consignment barn for $135,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2017. He is the second foal of the Awesome Again broodmare Belvedera whose dam Forever Land was a Grade III winner on dirt and produced black type winner Touch Dial and Grade III-placed Forever Rush. 


Trainer Jack Sisterson had an ideal scenario in mind for how Oxy Lady would work on Saturday morning and it couldn’t have gone any smoother. The Calumet Farm-owned daughter of Oxbow will attempt to shoot for her second graded stakes victory in the Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes.

A Kentucky homebred, Oxy Lady went a half-mile in 48.20 for Sisterson, which was the 13th fastest of 135 recorded workouts at the distance. She gave the trainer his first graded stakes victory when taking the Grade III Tempted Stakes at Aqueduct last November.

“How she worked was exactly what we envisioned before,” Sisterson said. “I expect a big performance form her. It looks like she has improved from two to three. She’s gotten stronger physically and seems to handle the dirt here well. Anything less than a good performance would be disappointing.”

Never worse than fourth in five career starts, Oxy Lady has raced over five different ovals in each of her starts, the most recent of which was a fourth-place effort in the Grade I Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos Race Course behind fellow Rachel Alexandra Stakes contestant Chasing Yesterday.

“She ships pretty well,” Sisterson said. “We won’t make an excuse that she doesn’t like the dirt here.”

Sisterson currently has a string of nine horses on the Fair Grounds backstretch and has made quite a showing having won two of his seven starts, which also include two seconds.

“The horses seem to like it down here,” Sisterson said. “With the way they’re going this year, I’d like to come back the following year. We’ll stay humble and grounded and not get too far ahead of ourselves, but we couldn’t be in a better spot at the moment with the way she’s been going.”

Oxy Lady will break from post six under jockey Adam Beschizza.

Out of the graded stakes placed A.P. Indy broodmare Renaissance Lady, Oxy Lady comes from the same family as 1982 Champion Sprinter Gold Beauty who became the broodmare of prominent sire Dayjur and Grade I winner Maplejinsky – the dam of multiple Grade I winner Sky Beauty.


Following a victory against winners in a Friday allowance event, Tasting the Stars is a possibility for the Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 23, according to trainer Michael Stidham.

Owned by Newton Anner Stud, the 3-year-old daughter of Bodemeister cruised home to victory under Shaun Bridgmohan by four lengths defeating the likes of stakes-placed Fortunate Girl in the process.

“It will give her good spacing into the next race and it’s not a definite but we are looking at it,” Stidham said. “We feel like she has the quality and she’s shown the talent in the afternoon so we’re definitely going to be looking in that direction.”

Tasting the Stars got it right at first asking at a price of 11-1 over the Fair Grounds main track and did so impressively winning by 5¼ lengths. Friday’s victory made her an undefeated two for two with both starts having taken place around two turns.

Bred in Virginia by Audley Farm Equine, Tasting the Stars is out of the Grade III winning Awesome Again broodmare Pink Champagne.