It always seems like War of Will is looking for his chance at redemption.
After starting 2019 with two graded stakes wins at Fair Grounds that put him atop many Kentucky Derby rankings, War of Will lost action in his hind end after leaving the gate of the Louisiana Derby (G2) and lost all chance in that race, putting into question his ability to run well in the Kentucky Derby (G1). His first chance came in the Derby six weeks later, but while launching a big move on the far turn, he was notoriously obstructed by Maximum Security, costing him any chance to finish strongly and ultimately resulting in a seventh-place placement in The Run for the Roses.
The Mark Casse trainee’s next chance came two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes (G1), and he more than redeemed himself, taking over late up the rail under jockey Tyler Gaffalione to win an American Classic.
The only horse to run in all three legs of the 2019 Triple Crown, War of Will would next finish a disappointing ninth in the Belmont Stakes (G1). This Saturday at Saratoga, he once again will have a chance to redeem himself in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) in a talented six-horse field.
Will the top-class Grade 1-winning War of Will show up and reverse his most recent dud? Or will talented horses like Tacitus and Global Campaign step up to show their 3-year-old male division dominance? We’ll break down an intriguing rendition of the Jim Dandy in this week’s Saratoga Skinny!
If There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Analyzing the Dandy field has to start with the only official winner of a 2019 Triple Crown race in active training: War of Will.
Casse sat down with me at his Saratoga barn recently to discuss War of Will’s year so far and told me, “Obviously, he had an excuse in the Derby. I think he was going to run extremely well there, and then he won the Preakness. The head-scratcher a little bit is the Belmont. He went into that race really well. I know a lot of people will sit and tell you that maybe it’s the grind of the Triple Crown, but I really don’t think so. I just really think he struggled with the racetrack.”
It is true that many horses just don’t take well to Belmont Park’s massive main track (a.k.a. Big Sandy), so War of Will may have a mulligan there, but he needs to now prove himself over a surface at Saratoga over which he’s never run in the afternoon. He did impress as a juvenile last August while training over the track, and most recently in his last two breezes at The Spa.
“Last year he was here, and that’s when we knew he was an extremely talented horse,” Casse said. “Since we breezed him the other day, you could just see how he floats over this racetrack.”
War of Will has had seven weeks off between the Belmont Stakes and the Jim Dandy, and Casse likes his physical appearance coming into the race.
“His color is much better now than, say, before the Belmont,” Casse said. “The Derby was hard on him. I thought he was a little light going into the Preakness, but he obviously won that. I thought he picked up a couple pounds going into the Belmont, but now he looks good.”
In what is expected to be a smaller field for the Dandy, strategy will likely determine the winner, and War of Will has shown tactical speed and the ability to rate in all of his best races.
“For the most part, Saratoga tends to be a little more speed-biased, so he’s going to be fairly close,” Casse said. “I think his best running style is just close. He doesn’t necessarily have to be on the lead, but he wants to be close.”
Who Will Lead the Dandy?
If War of Will isn’t going to the lead in the Dandy, then who will take them into the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile journey?
The other five entries in the 2019 Dandy are Global Campaign, Tax, Tacitus, Mihos,and Laughing Fox.
Both the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) winner Global Campaign and the Withers Stakes (G3) winner Tax have shown the ability to be forwardly placed, but neither is a need-the-lead type. It’s likely that we see War of Will, Global Campaign, and Tax make up a tight front pack at the start.
The Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) winner Tacitus showed tactical speed earlier in his career, but he wasn’t as close to the pace in either of his two Triple Crown starts, the Kentucky Derby (where he was placed third) and the Belmont Stakes (where he finished a late-moving second).
I asked his Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott about Tacitus’ last two races. Mott said, “In the Kentucky Derby, of course it’s easy to get shuffled (back) a little bit. We thought going in (he’d be closer), but they didn’t break that way. I would’ve liked to have seen him a little more forward (in the Belmont), too.”
As for the Jim Dandy, Mott said, “I’d like to see him lay a little bit closer. Maybe we just got to ask him to be up there a little closer.”
Tacitus arrived at Saratoga shortly after his Belmont Stakes try and has put in four works over the Oklahoma training track. Mott said, “He’s doing great. We’re happy with him. His works have been good. He’s moving well and looks good, so we’re happy with the way he’s doing.”
Mihos for trainer Jimmy Jerkens was disappointing in his return off a five-month lay-off when he finished fourth in the Dwyer. He was a late addition to the field and will need to find the form he flashed when he won the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream in early January to stand a chance in this field.
The Oaklawn Invitational Stakes winner Laughing Fox will likely sit last in the Dandy and hope for a hot pace to ensue, with Global Campaign possibly battling Tax early. Laughing Fox was moving late in the Preakness to lose to War of Will by only 3 3/4 lengths finishing fifth, so he’s shown that he can be competitive at this level for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, especially if a speed-duel scenario develops.
Leading into Dandy Day, all of the competitors have questions to answer, but the one with the biggest question mark is Global Campaign. He has displayed upside that very few horses in the crop can match, starting with his impressive maiden-breaker at Gulfstream Park way back in January.
Foot problems have plagued Global Campaign’s career, starting with the injury that he sustained in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), which took him off of the Kentucky Derby trail. Trainer Stanley Hough recently spoke with NYRA about Global Campaign’s issues, starting with the Fountain of Youth.
“He grabbed a quarter very bad and then got over that. Then, when I ran him in New York (in the Peter Pan), he lost his frog, and that was another issue. Then he had a quarter crack that we had to patch, so it’s just been one thing or another, but hopefully it’s on the right track.”
If Global Campaign puts his best foot forward like he did when winning the Peter Pan over the eventual Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston, then he may be the play at a price in the Dandy.
“He’s a very talented horse,” Hough added. “It’s going to be a very tough race, but the only disappointing race he’s had was the Fountain of Youth, and that’s when he (hurt) himself. I don’t know how much it affected the actual race, but I believe it did.”
The Dandy, along the Curlin Stakes on Friday (check out my preview and picks here), will lead us right into the jewel of the Saratoga meet four weeks from now, the Travers Stakes (G1). The main goal for War of Will, Tacitus, and the rest of these runners is to win the Travers, and we’ll get clues as to who can win that prestigious race after we see what happens this weekend.
Follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for live on-site coverage for both the Curlin (Friday) and the Jim Dandy (Saturday) cards. If you’re going to be at Saratoga for either or both days, please let me know! You can meet up with me and all of the Racing Dudes that will be in town.