Brian’s Blasphemous KY Derby Analysis: War of Will

A late april foal, War of Will pronounced himself a precious two year old talent in just his second career start in the G1 Summer at Woodbine last September. He wasn’t in the same league as the Chad Brown juvenile winner (who is?) Fog of War, but War of Will marked himself as a horse to watch, having produced that second place finish while still a maiden. Subsequently, he nearly messed around and won the G3 Bourbon, and ran a very respectable fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile turf. After getting too far ahead of himself, trainer Mark Casse finally dropped him back into the maiden ranks, this time on dirt. He easily walloped the field as you’d expect over a sloppy surface.

Still an unknown quantity on a fast dirt track, he was made the 8:5 choice in the G3 Lecomte at the Fair Grounds. There, he galloped, very similarity to his prior win that came against maidens. He also improved nicely on the speed figures scale. Next out, now the premier division leader on the Fair Grounds road to the Kentucky Derby, War of Will was sent off at even money, again winning easily enough, this time after pressing a much quicker early pace. The race came back a bit slow, but he had already proved himself fast enough in January. No biggie. Now six weeks away from the KY Derby, War of Will was supposed to easily score again in the Louisiana Derby; a final prep. The field was awfully weak on paper. Out of the gate though, War of Will lost his backside action. After injuring himself, he carried on fine physically but was clearly very diminished, never challenging for the lead.

It’s likely the winner and runner-up of the Louisiana Derby, By My Standards and Spinoff, would have pushed War of Will to a fast score, and thus look like a KY Derby favorite on paper if he’d remained healthy. If you’d like to bet him off of that reasoning alone, be my guest. You’d make War of Will a real overlay for yourself in that scenario. But, ignoring the moot hypothesis, War of Will did get hurt.

Casse has described the injury as minor, like a pulled muscle. If his final Derby workout a few days ago was any indication, War of Will is plenty healthy at the moment. But it’s more than his health. It’s his fitness. He surely didn’t take much out of the Louisiana Derby six weeks ago, which is a lifetime at this stage of a young horses’ development. Thankfully, if one horse were chosen to be most equipped to handle this schedule, it would have War of Will thanks to his tremendous bottom with eight career starts. So let’s assume for argument’s sake he’s fit enough. Then there’s the class test. Sure, War of Will hasn’t beat much in the LeComte and Risen Star, his two stakes wins on dirt. However, War of Will sure held himself accountable in stakes action last year, even in the Breeders’ Cup, and has ran a 94 beyer speed fig in January, which makes him fast enough in this field based on some natural progression into May. War of Will beat bad horses like good horses do in Louisiana: easily. He showed quality tactical speed, and would breathe fire while pressing the pace from the outside. Drawn the dreaded rail in the Derby, War of Will will have to be gunned out of there and could be forced to set a quick pace.

So will coming off an injury-forced elongated break, stepping up in company, and stretching out to a mile and a quarter be enough to get War of Will beat? Probably. Maybe he’s best suited next out in the Preakness. Regardless, War of Will may very well be as talented as any in his crop. He may find himself a trip sitting off a wannabe sprinter setting the pace. He is absolutely coming into the race in great form, judging by what may have been the most impressive final Derby workout there was. War of Will, at a price, is plenty interesting in the world’s biggest race.

Here are our trip notes of War of Will:

8th career start: March 23th, Fair Grounds, G2 Louisiana Derby, one mile and an eighth

War of Will is #6

Broke fine, lost his hind action briefly, settled in among horses in midpack, drew closer as the field bunched rounding into the stretch, nothing from thereon. Suffering an injury a few strides out of the gate, this was a clearly diminished War of Will. We can easily toss this effort.

7th career start: February 16th, Fair Grounds, G2 Risen Star, one mile and a sixteenth

War of Will is #14

Good gate speed to get his customary outside stalking trip, sat second behind a hopeless pacesetter, again under a hold on the backstretch, took over early on the far turn, opened up some into the stretch, the oncoming Country House got within a length of him near the 8th pole before that one gave way, finished to the wire. In what has turned out to be War of Will’s most impressive performance yet, he was a much-the-best winner who pressed a quick early pace but still had plenty left in the stretch when facing better competition than in the LeComte.

6th career start: January 19th, Fair Grounds, G3 LeComte, one mile and seventy yards

Broke a tad awkwardly but out fine, checked abruptly into the first turn when an outside rival came over the top on him, had a head of steam tracking the inside pacesetters on the backstretch, took over without having been asked into the stretch, opened up when asked, finished very nicely. This was an ultra impressive win from War of Will, crushing stakes competition very similarly to his maiden win prior to.

Trip notes of War of Will’s first five career starts can be found in the comments.

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  • 5th career start: November 24th, Churchill, maiden special weight, one mile and a sixteenth, sloppy track
    Out fine, under a tight hold when sitting just off the pace, made the lead easily under restraint rounding into the stretch, asked at the top of the stretch and opened up. A professional, easy win from War of Will, smashing inferior foes in his first start on dirt.

    4th career start: November 2nd, Churchill, G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, one mile, turf listed as yielding
    Broke fine, some speed but held up 4/5 wide outside on first turn, 4 wide on the far turn behind a very fast pace, actually in contention into the stretch in what would have been prime position had he not suffered such ground loss, evenly to wire. A fine effort from War of Will, given an impossible trip while stepping up in class; he ran as well as could be expected of him.

    3rd career start: October 7th, Keeneland, G3 Bourbon, one mile and a sixteenth, turf
    Broke well from the inside post, good speed, set solid pace while loose on the lead, got away some into the far turn, held off an oncomer to maintain a significant margin into the stretch, looked like a winner at the 3/16ths pole, tired on left lead at 8th pole, not much of a battle, overtaken by three closers late. This was a disappointing finish for War of Will who didn’t come close at the wire the wire after looking so strong earlier in the stretch. Prior to the stretch-run, he had things his own way but was still dismissed.

    2nd career start: September 16th, Woodbine, G1 Summer, one mile, turf
    Broke well, sat second a length and a half off a longshot pacesetter, inherited the lead at the top of the stretch, found his best stride late but still no match for Fog of War nearing the wire. War of Will vastly improved here.

    1st career start: August 24th, Woodbine, maiden special weight, seven furlongs, turf listed as good
    Broke outward but immediately to the lead, pressed around the turn, cornered awkwardly while relinquishing the lead, evenly to wire. A green debut for the favorite.

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