Less than 24 hours after being in the eye of one of the most surreal editions of the Kentucky Derby in its 145-year history, trainer Mark Casse found himself marveling at another remarkable feat Sunday morning.
He pulled out Gary Barber's multiple graded stakes winner War of Will to see what the day after might reveal after the son of War Front colt almost clipped heels with Maximum Security – an incident that helped lead to the latter's history-making disqualification after crossing the wire first. To his relief, the Canadian Hall of Fame trainer saw nothing but a horse ready to regroup and potentially do it all again in two weeks.
“As much as I want to win the Kentucky Derby, I feel like a lucky man today because I just got him out and jogged him and he's perfect,” Casse said. “The horse racing world should be happy War of Will is such an athlete because not every horse doesn't go down there. I've been saying he's special for a long time.”
That War of Will stayed on his feet after the incident near the five-sixteenths pole and ran on to cross the wire eighth – later elevated to seventh – was about the only thing the racing community could agree upon as a clear bright spot during a most memorable edition of the Run for the Roses. The handsome bay colt barely had a scratch on him in the aftermath and is expected to be Preakness Stakes (GI) bound as long as his buoyant energy level remains just that in the coming days.
While the chatter around whether County House should have been elevated to victory via disqualification likely will be discussed for years to come in racing circles, Casse for one had no doubt about the call – pointing to the fact that Maximum Security appeared to come out several paths, causing his horse to check up just as he was making his surge and also impacting Long Range Toddy.
“I never doubted it. After watching it a few times, I knew they were going to take him down. They had to take him down,” Casse said. “I feel bad for Gary Barber, because he missed his chance at possibly winning the Kentucky Derby because our horse was loading up, he wanting to run over top of that horse. A lot of people said the best horse won, you know, maybe he did. But we would have liked the chance.
“Should he have come down? Absolutely. It doesn't matter if it's the Kentucky Derby or not. (Maximum Security) put people lives in danger, he put jockeys' lives in danger. And it's unfortunate because I don't know what he shied from. But I feel sorry for Gary Barber. I feel sorry for (Maximum Security's owners Gary and Mary West) because they won the biggest race of their lives and got DQ'd. I feel bad for (jockey) Luis Saez and (trainer) Jason Servis and I feel bad for (Country House's trainer) Bill Mott. I've known Bill my entire racing life and Bill is maybe one of the classiest men I've ever been around. I know it's nice to win but he didn't want to win it that way.”
Given the way War of Will was moving approaching the far turn, he was arguably the one most compromised by Maximum Security coming out when he did. When asked if he or jockey Tyler Gaffalione considered lodging a claim of foul themselves, Casse explained that he didn't feel it would be worth it given where they finished.
“You have to remember… we're only seeing a little bit of (the race live). I didn't really realize what happened. Tyler came back and said 'I almost went down' and I said to him 'It's not worth it. We were (eighth).' If we had finished fourth or third or second, we would have been claiming foul in an instant.
“Was it unfortunate? Absolutely. But you realize…if I claim foul, it ruins the biggest accomplishment in (Servis') life and the only thing that's going to do is move me up to sixth. Would you claim foul? No. Should Tyler have claimed foul? No. I stand by that.”
One immediate impact Casse expects to see as a result of the Kentucky Derby decision is a full gate at Pimlico Race Course for the second leg of the Triple Crown on May 18.
“If he's happy and healthy we're probably going to go to Baltimore,” Casse said, adding. “I would think there are probably going to be a few at Baltimore because normal Derbys kind of separate the men from the boys. I would say there are going to be a lot of excuses coming out of yesterday and it will be bigger than usual.”
He may still be seeking his first classic triumph but one thing Casse came away with on Saturday night was renewed faith in his charge's athleticism and raw talent.
“We haven't lost any faith in our horse. I'm so proud of him,” Casse said. “With everything that happened in the six weeks (after the Louisiana Derby), he was ready. He was ready. He was on his game.”
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