With Road to the Derby Kickoff Day five weeks away, trainers have already started making plans with some of their highly regarded soon-to-be 3-year-olds.
Trainer Mark Casse is pointing impressive maiden winner and Grade I-placed War of Will to the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on January 19 at the Fair Grounds. Owned by Gary Barber, the 2-year-old son of War Front broke his maiden over a sloppy main track at Churchill Downs on November 24, which he won by five lengths as the lukewarm favorite. He had raced over the grass in his prior four career starts, including a runner-up finish in the Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine on September 16. In addition, he also competed in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf over Churchill Downs' Matt Winn Turf Course, finishing fifth.
“I think (the dirt) moved him up,” Casse said. “His Breeders' Cup race was even better than it looked. He ran 76 feet farther than the winner (Line of Duty (Ire)), 90 feet further than the runner-up (Uncle Benny) and almost 80 feet to the third horse (Somelikeithotbrown), so his Breeders' Cup race was very good.”
War of Will was purchased by Casse's brother, Justin, at the Arqana May Two-Year-Old Breeze Up Sale in France this past May for $298,550. He was consigned by Oak Tree Farm.
“From day one since we got him from France he's always seemed special,” Casse said. “We breeze him on the dirt all the time and he would work super, but when you look at War Front progeny almost all the success has been on the turf with the exception of The Factor. We even talked about running in the Juvenile but we opted not to and just ran him in the Juvenile Turf. After the race, Gary was excited and wanted to see him on the dirt and I don't think he could have been more impressive when he won. He ran only a little slower than the winner of the (Grade II) Kentucky Jockey Club (Signalman) and (jockey) Tyler (Gaffalione) geared him down the last hundred yards.”
War of Will was bred in Kentucky by Flaxman Holdings and is out of the Sadler's Wells broodmare Visions of Clarity (Ire) who also produced Irish Group 1 winner Pathfork as well as two-time dirt marathon stakes winner Tacticus.
Meanwhile, Casse intends to point Debby Oxley's Chocolate Kisses to the $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes which also is run on Road To The Derby Kickoff Day. The daughter of Candy Ride (Arg) broke her maiden at second asking over the turf at Saratoga on July 22 and raced back the following month to a third-place finish in the P.G. Johnson Stakes. Casse then ran her on the main track in the Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland on October 5, where she finished fourth behind Restless Rider.
Last time out, she unseated rider Julien Leparoux at the beginning of the Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs on October 28. She has since recorded one breeze when going a half-mile in 52.20 over the Fair Grounds main track.
“She ran exceptionally well in Alcibiades,” Casse said. “She had a wide post, was bothered in first turn and ran way farther than anyone else. We thought about running in the Juvenile Fillies but decided to go to the Rags to Riches. She kind of went up into the air at the start and when she came down she grabbed her foot.”
Chocolate Kisses is a half-sister to Synchrony, a four-time graded stakes winner on turf and is out of the Forest Wildcat broodmare Brownie Points who was a multiple stakes winner on both surfaces. Bred in Kentucky by Pin Oak Stud, Chocolate Kisses was sold for $410,000 at last year's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale where she was consigned by Denali Stud.
Casse also spoke of Dream Maker, a first out winner for John C. Oxley, who last raced as the lukewarm favorite in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on October 6 where he finished 12th. A target race was not specified for the full-brother to Grade I winner Dream Dancing, but Casse stated that he would be sent to Fair Grounds.
In other Road To The Derby Kickoff Day related news, Breeders' Cup Juvenile fourth-place finisher Mr. Money will point towards the Lecomte according to trainer Bret Calhoun.
Owned by Allied Racing Stable, the 2-year-old son of Goldencents broke his maiden at third asking over a fast main track at Churchill Downs on September 28. In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Mr. Money sat fifth in between horses under a tight hold from jockey Gabriel Saez and began inching his way closer to the front around the far turn. Just past the quarter pole, Saez swung him wide but was unable to catch Game Winner and Kicks Go, the respective winner and runner-up.
“He got me pretty excited at the three-eighths pole,” Calhoun recalled. “He was in great position and I was excited for a minute. Obviously there was still a lot of ground to make up between the winner and where he ended up that day but we think that he's an improving horse and that's all you can hope for this time of year is a just a good transition from two to three. We freshened him a couple of weeks ago when we brought him down here. He's doing well and getting cranked back up for the Lecomte.”
Since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Mr. Money has recorded tow half-mile works over the Fair Grounds main track in 49.20 (November 28) and 50.00 (December 6).
Calhoun stated that Cowgirls Like Us may race in the $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes depending on how she performs in Sunday's $100,000 Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park. Owned by Douglass Scharbauer, the 2-year-old daughter of My Golden Song is a two-time stakes winner over the main track at Retama Park.
The Grade III Lecomte Stakes is the first of three local preps on Churchill Downs' Road To The Kentucky Derby and the Silverbulletday Stakes kicks off the Road To The Kentucky Oaks. Both races award the Top 4 finishers based off of a 10-4-2-1 scale.
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