Kentucky horses and horsemen dominate Thursday’s Fair Grounds barn notes by Ryan Martin
For the past seven years, longtime bloodstock agent Justin Casse has traveled nearly every corner of the globe in search of quality Thoroughbreds to import to North America. Little did he know that a recent journey (May 2018) to Deauville, France, for the Arqana Breeze Up Sale would yield a potential Triple Crown contender.
Nine months later, his nearly $300,000 purchase for owner Gary Barber is in a good position for a chance to smell the roses on the First Saturday in May as War of Will appears to be the one to beat in Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford.
Perhaps the most intriguing trait of the sophomore son of War Front is the fact that he boasts such a prestigious turf pedigree yet excels on the main track. He is out of the Sadler’s Wells broodmare Visions of Clarity (Ire.) who is a half-sister to 1997 Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Spinning World. Visions of Clarity also produced 2010 Group 1 Vincent O’Brien National Stakes victor Pathfork. Other members of his family include North American Grade I turf winners Good Journey and Denon.
War of Will is trained by Justin’s older brother Mark Casse.
“I always call Gary when I find something that I like,” Casse said. “I didn’t really run it by Mark because he trusts me so I called Gary because one of the first horses I bought for him was Jack Milton, who also was by War Front. I bought him two other stakes horses by War Front so he knew that the sire worked. I called him only 30 minutes before he went through the ring. Told him he’d be reasonably priced. He breezed well at the sale, he was a good mover, had a good turn of foot and speed for his size. The rest is history, Gary got him.”
Casse recalls eyeing War of Will for the first time at the sale and stated that there wasn’t anything about his presence that suggested he would favor one surface over the other.
“He didn’t look like a dirt horse but he didn’t strike you as one that’s all turf either,” Casse said. “He was just a real good looking horse but I didn’t really classify him as one or the other. In pedigree he’s instantly classified as turf because of who a lot of his relatives are but if you look deeper into his pedigree he’s related to horses like (two-time dirt stakes winner) Tacticus and (multiple Grade I winner on dirt) Aldebaran.”
When the elder Casse saw War of Will breeze for the first time on dirt, he could not have been more impressed, but the heavy turf pedigree naturally swayed him in the direction of running the horse on grass in his first four starts. Although he did not win any of the four races, he still made good showings in each start, which included a close second in the Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine. It was not until late November when War of Will finally ran on dirt and when he did, he did so in stunning fashion when breaking his maiden by five lengths before another impressive victory in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes by four lengths last month.
As it turns out, the main track is War of Will’s niche.
“It looks that way,” Casse said. “The horse that beat him in the Summer is debatably the best now 3-year-old turf male, Fog of War. To run second to him in only his second start in a Grade I spoke volumes for him. Obviously everyone was buzzing about how he worked on the dirt.
“With horses that I buy I feel like I own a piece of them because I get really excited and get really into it,” Casse continued. “I feel like they’re my own to a certain extent and to be there with my brother, family and girlfriend would be special too. Trying to take it one step at a time and appreciate having such a nice horse. It’s hard to not get caught up thinking about the Derby and it’s fun to daydream. There are too many things that can happen between today and tomorrow.”
But in the meantime Casse is enjoying the ride, and he’s hoping it won’t stop any time soon.
CONSISTENT LIMONITE GETS BACK TO BUSINESS IN GRADE II RISEN STAR
A solid pattern of consistency is always an appealing factor in a Road To The Kentucky Derby qualifier. In a tetrad of career starts, Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing’s Limonite has done just that and will try to keep a good thing going in the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Never off the board in four career starts, the bay son of Lemon Drop Kid has never been beaten by more than two lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Third in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on November 24 last time out, the connections do not believe the time off will hinder the chances of a big effort.
“He never really left training but he was just in light training,” said Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Racing and Bloodstock Manager David Fiske. “He was just jogging, galloping and taking it easy which is what Steve does with a lot of his young horses. There’s really no reason to crank him up for any short races early because it’s such a long year for 3-year-olds.”
The fact that Limonite has not started in three months was by design. The connections wanted to keep him fit while at the same time not making things too hard on the horse. Fiske is hopeful that Limonite record yet another hard fought effort to convince the connections to race him back in the Grade II $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 23.
“We’re just looking for a good, solid performance that he can build on,” Fiske said. “He hasn’t run since the end of November and he’s kind of a big, long striding horse. He was coming from off the pace last time but will probably be a little fresher, faster and closer to the pace. He just needs to put in a decent showing and hopefully after that he can move on to the Louisiana Derby. He’s been training well, as well as he ever had. We thought the Risen Star was good place to get him started. You have to start somewhere and it seemed to be the next one in book.
Also racing for Asmussen, Winchell and Willis Horton Racing is Combatant in the Grade III $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap. The 4-year-old son of Scat Daddy last raced in the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile at Santa Anita last December where he was a close third at 14-1.
“Combatant ran huge that day,” Fiske said. “He always seems to try in each of his races, other than when he ran (18th) in the sloppy Derby. He’s going to have to step up against his elders for the first time so we’ll see how he does. He’s been training well since he came back from California.”
OWENDALE STEPS UP IN CLASS FOR RISEN STAR
Since arriving at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Rupp Racing’s Owendale has managed to make a good showing with two solid performances. On Saturday, the bay son of Into Mischief’s connections will see what he’s really made of when he faces a full field in the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford.
Trained by Brad Cox, Owendale was a 1½-length winner last time out against fellow Risen Star aspirants Frolic More and Gun It as well as well-bred stablemate Cornacchia. In his prior effort he was a close second behind two-time winner Tackett.
“It was a very hyped field last time out and we’ll see how good they are,” Cox said. “He really ran two fantastic races here. He’s training well. He’s a little different because we had Golden Mischief and some others that have been decent. We’ve had other Into Mischiefs that have been similar. He’s kind of a big, plan brown horse. Sometime they can have some flash and chrome to him but he’s just a strong and plain horse. To look at him, you could think that he’s a mile and a sixteenth, mile and an eighth type of horse.”
Owendale broke his maiden third time out going one mile on the main track at Indiana Grand Race Course, where he beat next out winner Kentucky Allstar. In his first start against winners, he was fourth behind fellow Risen Star contestants Roiland and Limonite as well as graded stakes placed Everfast.
Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Owendale is out of the unraced Bernardini broodmare Aspen Light, whose graded stakes placed dam Zenith produced Grade I winner Great Hunter. He comes from the same family as Grade I winner Mor Spirit and 2015 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Stellar Wind.
Earlier on the card, Cox sends out Harlan Punch in the Grade III $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap, who is already a stakes winner this meet. The 6-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday won the Louisiana Stakes last time out over Silver Dust and Phat Man who also are entered in the Mineshaft.
Already a graded stakes winner, Harland Punch won the Grade III Phillip H. Iselin Handicap last June while racing for trainer David Jacobson.
“I have a lot of confidence in him he’s training great,” Cox said. “He loves the track here this year and this is obviously a step up but some of these new shooters are coming off a layoff so I feel like we’re in a good spot with him.”
Harlan Punch is owned by Front Row Racing, Ten Strike Racing, Kevin McReynolds and Bob Miller. He was bred in Kentucky by Rosemont Farm.
HOGY STILL GOING STRONG AT AGE 10
Not all Thoroughbreds can stay competitive at the seasoned age of 10, but not all Thoroughbreds are Hogy. While many other horses his age are turned out and enjoying the rest and relaxation of retirement, this old war horse will seek his tenth stakes triumph in Saturday’s $75,000 Colonel Power Stakes over Fair Grounds’ Stall-Wilson Turf Course.
When owner Michael Hui claimed the son of Offlee Wild with trainer Mike Maker back in August 2017, he was unaware that the horse had such a loyal fan base, but that’s what happens when one acquires a hard-knocking multiple stakes winner that fans have been able to familiarize themselves with over the years. He was a stakes winner at ages two, three, four, eight and nine.
By the time Hogy was claimed for $80,000 from former owner William Stiritz and trainer Larry Rivelli, he had six stakes victories under his belt, including a victory in the 2017 edition of the Colonel Power Stakes. Since then, his competitive nature and strong work ethic have not digressed as he has picked up three stakes wins for Maker and Hui including graded stakes wins in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint and Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park (both Grade III).
“I didn’t realize he had such a cult like following,” Hui said. “He just loves what he does. When he sees the track, he knows when it’s his turn to leave the barn. To say that I’m pleased is an understatement. He is ten and Mike Maker does an excellent job at keeping him race ready.”
When Hui claimed Hogy from his former connections he was eight years of age. It is not always common for such an old horse to get claimed but Hui has enjoyed the thrill that the horse has given him.
“It’s all about winning to the extent of fun and it’s been one heck of ride,” Hui said. “He had some time off and was actually race ready around Thanksgiving. There was an open allowance at Churchill Downs in November, but Mike just didn’t like the turf that day and we only race Hogy when the turf is right and when he’s right. Mike does an excellent job and he’s good at what he does. The race in Sam Houston, he’s back to stakes competitive form and his numbers reflected it. I was pleased that he closed the way he has in the past. The gallop out was really good and with him at age ten it’s kind of race to race.”
Hogy is the 5-2 morning line favorite for the Colonel Power Stakes and will be guided by Jose Ortiz from the seven hole.
Bred in Kentucky by Dr. John E. Little, Hogy is out of the Petionville broodmare Floy. He has banked a total of $1,338,282 in 54 career starts.
LYNCH SHIPS THIRD DAY FOR GRADE III MINESHAFT HANDICAP
It took a few efforts for Third Day to get it right following a 21-month hiatus from the races, but was able to do so last time out. With another win under his belt, trainer Brian Lynch will give him a try in Saturday’s Grade III $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Owned by Town and Country Racing, the 5-year-old dark bay son of Bernardini was a 1¼-length winner of a Gulfstream Park allowance event on January 3 which was his first start going two turns. In his prior outing, he was a distant fourth after a poor break and was never a factor throughout the race.
“It was a much improved effort than before,” Lynch said of his most recent effort. “He just stumbled at the start they ran away from him a bit early and didn’t really get into the race after that. This spot came up and he’s training well going in and he ran well last time. We’ve just been looking at options and hope that he keeps improving, hope that he can turn into a nice older horse this year. We hope that he would continue to improve and take us in a nice direction.”
Third Day was previously conditioned by Todd Pletcher, for whom he won his first two starts, including a restricted stakes win in Gulfstream Park’s Just One More Stakes in February 2017. He did not racing again until November the following year, where he was third behind Spikes Shirl going one mile at Churchill Downs.
Third Day will be guided by jockey Jose Ortiz in the Mineshaft Handicap, where he drew post six at morning line odds of 20-1.
Bred in Kentucky by Janet Lyons and James Atwell, Third Day is out of the stakes winning Street Cry (Ire.) broodmare Onebadkitty.