By Ryan Martin
Gary Barber’s War of Will has impressed trainer Mark Casse with every step that he has taken, but on a cold and windy Saturday evening at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the 3-year-old son of War Front made his mark on the Road To The Kentucky Derby with a victory in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes.
Under the guidance of rider Tyler Gaffalione, War of Will went four wide around the first turn and track in third behind Malpais who led the opening quarter in 24.33 with Manny Wah not far behind in second. At the far turn, War of Will made his bid and drew off to win the Lecomte Stakes by four lengths in a time of 1:43.44. Hog Creek Hustle finished second and Manny Wah hung on for third.
Wicked Indeed, Plus Que Parfait, Chase the Ghost, Roiland, Night Ops, Tackett, Tight Ten, and Malpais completed the finish. Mo Speed did not finish the race and walked off after being pulled up into the stretch.
“My horse broke sharp,” Gaffalione said. “It looked like (Manny Wah) had a little more speed going into the turn and I took him back and went to his outside to try and get the best trip possible. He relaxed for me on the backside and when they came down to run, he really turned it on.”
The Lecomte was Gaffalione’s second time aboard War of Will. He guided the horse to a maiden special weight victory at Churchill Downs last time out, where he was geared down at the sixteenth pole and won under a hand ride.
“I never turned my stick on him,” Gaffalione recalled. “I just let him open up a bit. He really is special. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
War of Will has been training at Fair Grounds all winter with the Lecomte in mind. Now that he secured a victory in the race and collected 10 points on the Road To The Kentucky Derby in doing so, Casse is thinking ahead and stated that the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on February 16 will be the next likely spot for him.
“I’ll talk to Gary but it would make the most sense, its why we’re here,” Casse said. “We love this place and it’s a great place to get a horse ready. I don’t know that there would be a real reason to leave.”
Casse believes that War of Will could be the horse that makes his Derby dreams a reality.
“This was about a month ago, but I had some friends over and I said ‘We have a big chance to win the Derby this year’,” Casse said. “I don’t usually say things like that, so that tells you what I think of him.”
War of Will went off as the 8-5 favorite and returned $5.20, $3.80 and $3.20 while Hog Creek Hustle brought back $10.00 and $6.00. Manny Wah returned $6.00.
The victory in the Lecomte brought War of Will’s lifetime earnings up to $251,569 after collecting $120,000 from the win. A runner on turf in the first four starts of his career, he is now unbeaten in two career starts on the main track.
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. She also produced Irish Group 1 winner Pathfork as well as two-time dirt marathon stakes winner Tacticus. War of Will was purchased by trainer Mark Casse’s brother Justin for $298,550 from the Arqana May Two-Year-Old Breeze Up Sale in France, where he was consigned by Oak Tree Farm. He was bred in Kentucky by Flaxman Holdings.
Grade III Lecomte Stakes Quotes
Tyler Gaffalione (jockey of War of Will, winner): “My horse broke sharp,” Gaffalione said. “It looked like (Manny Wah) had a little more speed going into the turn and I took him back and went to his outside to try and get the best trip possible. He relaxed for me on the backside and when they came down to run, he really turned it on.”
Mark Casse (trainer of War of Will, winner): “This was about a month ago, but I had some friends over and I said ‘We have a big chance to win the Derby this year. I don’t usually say things like that, so that tells you what I think of him. I’ll talk to (owner) Gary (Barber) but (the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on February 16) would make the most sense, it’s why we’re here. We love this place and it’s a great place to get a horse ready. I don’t know that there would be a real reason to leave.”
Florent Geroux (jockey of Hog Creek Hustle, runner-up): “I wish I had some more horses in front of me to follow. I was following some horses who stopped right behind War of Will, and by the time we got out the winner was gone.”
Vickie Foley (trainer of Hog Creek Hustle, runner-up): “I would have like to have won, of course, but he ran well.”
Channing Hill (jockey of Manny Wah, third): “Beautiful trip, and a great little horse. Every time he runs, he runs his heart out, and today he made it look easy to get into position from a tough post. He punched hard – the winner ran a monster race.”
Brian Hernandez, Jr. (jockey of Wicked Indeed, fourth): “The trip was good from the one-hole. We got into the pocket and we were going slow, and when they picked up, the good thing is that he was always there for me.”