NEW ORLEANS, LA – Gary Barber’s War of Will continued his impressive unbeaten streak on dirt surfaces after clearing away sharply in Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds.
Breaking from post 14 under Tyler Gaffalione as the even-money favorite, War of Will was hustled up quickly in order to secure second heading into the first turn, where he settled in behind Gun It through opening fractions of :23.71 and :47.36. Deciding he no longer liked running in second, War of Will usurped the longshot pacesetter while running three-wide at the top of the far turn and emerged onto the front stretch with a clear lead. Responding smartly to Gaffalione’s cues in the stretch run, the Mark Casse trainee drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:44.59 for the 1 1/16-mile event over the fast main track.
“The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead, and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going, I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early, but I didn’t want to take too much away from him, so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane, but I kept him at task, and there was plenty of horse there.”
Impressive maiden winner Country House did not disappoint in his first start against winners, moving sharply from near-last to take second by 1 1/2 lengths over the 69/1 longshot Roiland.
“He ran well,” said Country House’s rider Luis Saez. “We could have won but he kept lugging in.”
The Grade 3 LeComte Stakes runner-up Hog Creek Hustle was unable to improve on that performance and had to settle for fourth over a similarly-closing Limonite, while Manny Wah necked out Mr. Money for sixth.
“Got a little bit squeezed in the first turn, but I took him back like he likes to run,” said Hog Creek Hustle’s pilot Florent Geroux. “I had to go a little wide by the 3/8 pole, so I went around. I thought he was going to finish third, and he got a little tired at the end.”
Owendale took eighth by a 1/2-length over Chase the Ghost, with the turf stakes-winning Henley’s Joy running a disappointing 10th in his dirt debut. Dunph, a spent Gun It, Plus Que Parfait, and Frolic More completed the order of finish.
The Risen Star is part of the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby prep race season. War of Will earned 50 points for the win, with Country House receiving 20 for second, Roiland 10 for third, and Hog Creek Hustle 5 for fourth.
War of Will’s win was his third straight since switching to dirt and improved his overall record to 7-3-1-1. The 3-year-old son of turf super-sire War Front, who was also Grade 1-placed on turf as a juvenile, increased his lifetime earnings mark to $491,569.
“For a big horse, he has tremendous speed,” Casse said. “He had to hit the gas a little to get over so that got him a little riled up. It’s like hitting the gas and trying to hit stop. They’re not as easy to stop as a car. He got him rolling and probably made the lead a little earlier than we would have liked. He’s done this a few times early on. When he gets the lead, he starts wandering. If he keeps winning there will be some big targets for him to chase.”
After his second straight win at Fair Grounds (including the LeComte), Casse’s steed will attempt to accomplish what only two other horses have done since 1994 – win all three Derby preps at the bayou venue.
“As long as he’s happy and healthy, (the Louisiana Derby)’s where we’ll go, and then we’ll talk about it from there,” Casse said. “I think (Fair Grounds) is a wonderful place to get a horse ready for the classics. We have, right now, four or five Derby horses, and our two major Derby horses are here right now. I think a lot of that. I have (assistant trainer) David Carroll, who I have utmost respect for, so that’s important for me. Last year, we almost won the Kentucky Oaks with Wonder Gadot, and she stabled here. It’s a great place, it’s nice, and the weather isn’t bad. Horses stay happy and safe here for the most part.”
War of Will returned $4 to win, $3 to place, and $2.60 to show. Country House brought back $6 to place and $4.80 to show, while Roiland paid $15.20 to show.