Winning the “Test of the Champion”, and with a longshot who at the same time earned his first graded stakes victory, is a feat of such enormity that it can drive a man to drink.
“I'm not a drinker. But last night we all went out to dinner and the restaurant where we ate had a specialty drink on the menu called the Sir Winston. So, I had one. It probably helped me sleep because I don't usually have one. I actually slept last night, and I slept good,” said trainer Mark Casse, who was in good spirits the morning after Sir Winston pulled off the 10-1 upset in the 151st running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets Saturday.
Nonetheless, the 10-time Sovereign Award winner, Canadian Thoroughbred Hall of Fame member and 2019 nominee to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame was still processing his emotions Sunday morning.
“There are lots of things going on right now. It usually takes me a few days, but we're very excited to win the Belmont,” said Casse, who also saddled Grade 1 Preakness winner War of Will, the second choice in the wagering, who finished next to last in the field of 10.
Surprisingly, Casse had only watched the Belmont replay one time. It was sufficient.
“That was a great ride by Joel (Rosario),” he said.
Assistant trainer Jamie Begg oversees Sir Winston in Casse's New York division and he was in agreement, saying, ” I think Joel rode the horse beautifully. He has a large hand in him turning the corner. It's like Mark said in the press conference after the race about Joel's style, he'll let those kind of horses, the deep closers, get their feet under them. Some guys are a little scared and they worry about what the pace is, and this and that, and Joel always rides his race and doesn't really care what others are doing. Sometimes that's the best thing.”
Tracy Farmer's Sir Winston and the Gary Barber-owned War of Will were both tired on Sunday morning but otherwise fine after their trip of 1 1/2 miles around the track. Their routine was limited to walking the shedrow and afterward, the Belmont winner settled down for a well-deserved nap in his stall.
“Both horses are good this morning. From here they're going to take separate paths and go their separate ways, but our goal is going to be the Travers for both,” said Casse.
While Sir Winston, a son of 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Awesome Again and maternal grandson of 2005 Belmont winner Afleet Alex, will remain at Belmont under Begg's care, War of Will had a reservation on a van departing at 12:30 PM and headed back to Kentucky, where he will return to Casse's division overseen by assistant David Carroll.
War of Will, whom Casse has termed “an exceptional horse”, is the only one in this year's crop of 3-year-olds to have filled his dance card with all three Triple Crown races and although it might be easy to blame his ninth-place finish on that grueling five-week campaign, Casse was having none of that.
“I don't think it was the Triple Crown campaign that caught up to War of Will. I think he was in a good place yesterday. I don't really have an explanation for his race yesterday, but I'm not going to use the five weeks as an excuse. The only thing I can tell you now is that he will be back,” he said.
On the other hand, there is no doubt the past five weeks have been extraordinary for Casse, who was dragged into the Kentucky Derby drama, earned his first Triple Crown training victory at Pimlico three weeks ago and added the Belmont score to his impressive resume Saturday.
“It's been an extremely good five weeks and a crazy five weeks, with lots of different emotions, that's for sure. We're extremely proud of it. I'm proud of our entire team as this has been a team effort through and through” he said.
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