BALTIMORE, MD – Just two weeks after being at the center of one of the biggest controversies in racing history, Gary Barber’s War of Will found vengeance with a furious rally up the rail to win Saturday’s $1.65 million Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
Breaking from the rail under Tyler Gaffalione just as he did in the Kentucky Derby, War of Will closely stalked while Warrior’s Charge posted opening fractions of :22.50, :46.16, and 1:10.56. Keeping close watch to the pacesetter’s outside was Anothertwistafate, and the locally-based Alwaysmining joined the fray midway through the far turn. That was as close as weither would get to Warrior’s Charge, though.
Still patiently handled as the field rounded the far turn, War of Will suddenly had a wide-open hole staring him in the face. He surged through and almost instantly assumed command.
Striding powerfully past Warrior’s Charge, War of Will was unchallenged as he sped away, unhindered by any lugging foes. The Mark Casse trainee crossed the wire with a 1 1/4-length advantage in a final time of 1:54.34 for the 1 3/16-mile event over the fast main track.
“It was so important to win it,” Casse said. “I just wanted him to get his chance to show everyone how good he is because he is a super horse. We thought we were going to win it two years ago (with Classic Empire) and we got beat at the wire, so I kept trying to figure out where the wire was. It was exciting, just unbelievable.”
Everfast came charging hard from the rear under new rider Joel Rosario to shock the exotics payouts as the second longest shot on the board at 29/1.
“We almost had it,” said Everfast’s jockey Joel Rosario. “He ran great. We have a great shot at the Belmont.”
Everfast nosed out Owendale, who made a similar run from the rear but was unable to get up for second. Warrior’s Charge weakened late to fourth, while Laughing Fox rallied from last to nose out Improbable for fifth.
“Very pleased with both of them,” said Brad Cox, who trains both Warrior’s Charge and Owendale. “Warrior’s Charge fought incredibly hard. He’s a nice horse. I mean, :22, :46, 1:10 2/5 going a mile and 3/16, he’s a good horse. We’ll give him plenty of time to recover. (Owendale) ran great. I need to watch a replay, but it looks like he maybe got stuck in behind some horses. He’s a big horse, probably needs to be more out in the open, clear running where he can keep his motor rolling. He took a little while to get going but ran a great race and I was very proud of both of them.”
Improbable, the 5/2 favorite, was also the slight post-time favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but his defeat today seemed more imminent after he reared up several times in the gate, at one point nearly unseating jockey Mike Smith.
“When he did that in the gate, I knew that was it,” said trainer Bob Baffert. “His only weakness is he gets a little bit fired up. He was acting pretty well, but then he got fired up. When horses do that, it takes a lot of energy out. Today wasn’t his day but the winner was pretty impressive.”
Win Win Win took seventh ahead of the “wise guy” horse Bourbon War, who finished a disappointing eighth. Signalman necked out ninth over a trio of runners who tired steadily in the stretch. Anothertwistafate, Alwaysmining, and Market King completed the order of finish.
Bodexpress, the maiden who finished second in the Florida Derby (G1) and was involved in the infamous Kentucky Derby interference incident, reared as the gates opened and unseated rider John Velazquez. Both Bodexpress and Velazquez were unscathed.
“He was just not behaving good in the gate,” Velazquez said. “He was not standing really well. He got me up against the wall in the gate. When the doors opened, I was standing up right from the start and I kind of jumped sideways. I had my feet out of the irons and I lost my balance and I went off. I’m good, I’m good. It’s just disappointing when you come in here for a big race like this. Things like this happen with horses, but it’s disappointing.”
War of Will’s win was his third of the year following dominating performances in the LeComte Stakes (G3) and the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and improved his record to 10-4-1-1. The 3-year-old son of War Front became the second offspring of the turf super-sire to win a G1 event on dirt following Omaha Beach’s victory in the Arkansas Derby. With the winner’s share of $990,000, War of Will has now earned $1,491,569 in his career.
“He’s got so much heart,” Gaffalione said. “We always knew he had the ability, we just had to get a little bit lucky and today was our day.”
War of Will returned $14.20 to win, $7.40 to place, and $5.40 to show. Everfast brought back $32 to place and $14.40 to show, while Owendale paid $6 to show.