By Richard Rosenblatt
War of Will back in the winner’s circle … The Haskell is coming, the Haskell is coming … The Brad and Flo show at Indiana Grand … Belmont’s closing weekend … Tiz the Law resumes training … racist post from Kentucky horseman … A look at some news, notes, quotes and anecdotes from the world of horse racing this week, with a peek ahead.
Where there’s a way there’s a (War of) Will
Carrying a five-race losing streak since a victory in the Preakness Stakes (G1) 14 months ago, War of Will is back in the winner’s circle. Barely.
War of Will ($13.80) nosed out Parlor at the wire and won the $300,000 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland on Friday (July 10) to give the 4-year-old son of War Front a Grade 1 win on the turf to go with his win on dirt in the Preakness.
Between victories, War of Will ran ninth in the 2019 Belmont Stakes (G1), fifth in the Jim Dandy (G2), third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and sixth in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) in his 2020 debut.
With regular rider Tyler Gaffalione aboard, trainer Mark Casse’s colt was sent off as the third choice behind 6-5 favorite Raging Bull – who recently defeated War of Will in the Shoemaker Mile — and 2-1 No Parole.
He broke from the outside No. 10 post, stalked the pace in third and then edged past 24-1 long shot Parlor, with Raging Bull a neck behind the runner-up.
“I think getting the last race out of the way, get the start into him, get the nerves out, and I think taking off blinkers today helped him,” Gaffalione said. “He relaxed beautifully going around there. And when I called on him, he really finished up nicely.”
Casse, the newest member of racing’s Hall of Fame, was pumped.
“We’re so excited. It’s great for everybody. We’re just so excited,’’ the trainer told the Keeneland press office. “Tyler gave him a tremendous ride. I wasn’t sure (if he won). I wasn’t sure until they put (his number) up. (My wife) Tina and I were just jumping up and down. It’s means so much to the horse. We love him so much. And it means so much for a stallion prospect and everything. (Owner) Gary Barber and I will have to talk about (dirt or turf). But everyone knows how much we love him, and it’s so wonderful.”
Bob Baffert may not have one of his glamour 3-year-olds heading to the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 18, but the Hall of Fame trainer will be looking for Haskell win No. 9 with Authentic.
With the coronavirus pandemic reshuffling many major stakes, the Haskell is being held a few weeks earlier than usual, and becomes a Kentucky Derby points-qualifier rather than a post-Triple Crown event. The Derby is now set for Sept. 5, the Preakness (G1) for Oct. 3. Tiz the Law won the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 20 in what was the first leg of the Triple Crown in 2020.
Authentic won his first three starts, including the San Felipe Stakes (G3) and finished second to Honor A.P. in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on June 6.
A field of nine is probable, with the position draw set for next week. In addition to Authentic, Belmont runner-up Dr. Post also set for the Haskell as are Ancient Warrior, Ete Indien, Fame to Famous, Jesus’ Team, Lebda, Ny Traffic and Sonneman. Possibles include Modernist and Mystic Guide.
The Haskell offers 100-40-20-10 Derby points to the first four finishers, and also is “Win and You’re In” event for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 7.
Also, Monmouth Park is putting up a $1 million bonus for any horse that sweeps the Haskell, the Derby and the BC Classic.
Bafftert’s eight previous Haskell winners are American Pharoah (2015), Bayern, (2014), Paynter (2012), Coil 2011), Lookin at Lucky (2010), Roman Ruler (2005), War Emblem (2002), and Point Given (2001).
Haskell tickets, anyone?
Monmouth Park is putting 500 general admission tickets on sale for the Haskell on Saturday (July 11) at noon ET on the track’s website: www.monmouthpark.com
Tickets are $100 apiece, and include access to limited seating. Attendance is limited by a state mandate in the ongoing effort to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There will be no ticket sales on the day of the Haskell.
Brad & Flo show at Indiana Grand
There was a little Kentucky Derby-Oaks qualifying going on midweek at Indiana Grand in Shelbyville on Wednesday (July 8) — Shared Sense won the $300,000 Indiana Derby (G3) and Shedaresthedevil captured the $200,000 Indiana Oaks (G3).
Both 3-year-olds are trained by Brad Cox, and both were ridden by Florent Geroux.
Shared Sense, the 5-2 favorite ($7.60), picked up 20 Derby qualifying points to move into contention for a spot in the field of the Sept. 5 Run for the Roses. Major Fed was three lengths back in second and earned eight points to boost his Derby total to 38 points. An objection by Major Fed’s jockey James Graham for contact in the final turn was disallowed by the stewards.
Owned by Godolphin, Shared Sense needs points in another Derby qualifying race to have a shot at the Derby, and would also need to be supplemented to the race with a payment of $45,000. It could certainly happen.
“There’s still a few races left to pick up Derby points,” Cox said in an Indiana Grand press release. “We’ll see how he comes out of this race and we’ll map out a plan for the rest of the year. Godolphin is great to work for. They put the horse first. They’ll come up with a game plan for us moving forward, and we’ll try to execute it.”
In the 1 1/16-mile Oaks, 3-5 favorite Shedaresthedevil ($3.20) topped Impeccable Style by four lengths for an easy win.
With 20 Kentucky Oaks (G1) qualifying points, the filly moved into third place on the leaderboard with 90 points behind stablemate Bonny South (100) and Swiss Skydiver (310).
“Very, very proud of her,” Cox said. “I think she’s only going to get better with more distance and maybe even when she gets older.”
Added Staton Flurry, co-owner of Shedaresthedevil: “I’d say we’re definitely in the conversation for the Oaks right now. We’re for sure going to run, but I think we’re very well toward the top of being one of the top contenders. Hopefully she runs like she did today come the first Friday in September. It’s weird saying that. Let’s hope this year is the only time we have to say it.”
Closing weekend at Belmont features Monomoy Girl
The final weekend of Belmont Park’s shortened spring/summer meet is about to end after record-breaking handles and spotlighted by Tiz the Law winning the Belmont Stakes (G1) last month in what became the first leg of the Triple Crown in 2020.
While rain was the order of the day during Friday’s races, hopefully the weather improves for Saturday’s card featuring Eclipse Award-winning mare Monomoy Girl taking on four rivals in the $150,000 Ruffian (G2).
Brad Cox trains the 5-year-old mare, who made a successful return after an 18-month layoff by winning an allowance at Churchill Downs on May 16. Her previous start before that was a victory in Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in November, 2018.
And in case it rains, Monomoy Girl won the allowance over a sloppy, sealed track. The long-term goal is a repeat in the BC Distaff at Keeneland on Nov. 7.
Taking on the 2-5 favorite are Piedi Bianchi, Mother Mother, Always Shopping, and Vexatious.
Sunday’s $80,000 River Memories for older fillies and mares going 1 ½ miles on the turf will be the final stakes race of the 25-day meet.
Tiz the Law works well
Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law returned to serious training this week, posting a 5-furlong breeze in 1:01.10 over Belmont’s main track and under the watchful eyes of trainer Barclay Tagg.
“He looked perfect,” Tagg told the NYRA press office. “He’s got a lot of energy. He wouldn’t blow out a candle.”
Regular rider Manny Franco was aboard for the work. Next up for the leading Kentucky Derby (G1) contender is the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 8.
Churchill sets stakes schedule for September meet
With the Kentucky Derby (G1) as its centerpiece on Sept. 5 (and the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks the day before), Churchill Downs this week released its schedule and will run 18 stakes races.
The revised Kentucky Derby Week — moved from April 25-May 2 to Sept. 1-5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — will feature 14 graded stakes.
Derby Day has seven graded stakes, including the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic and the Derby City Distaff, both Grade 1’s to go along with the Derby. Also on Derby Day, there’s the Iroquois (G3) for 2-year-olds that begins the road to the 2021 Derby by offering 10-4-2-1 points to the top four finishers and a berth in the BC Juvenile in November.
After the Sept. 1-5 Derby Week, Churchill will run its annual nine-day September meet from Sept. 17-27.
Tom VanMeter and his racist post
Prominent Kentucky horse owner and breeder Tom VanMeter was banned from racing and sales at Keeneland after a recent racist post on social media.
In a Facebook post last weekend on Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers’ Club president Donnie Snellings’ page that called on followers to “Re-post if you are still boycotting the NFL.”
VanMeter, who is white, responded with a post that used an abbreviation of the N-word. He later posted, “Put em back in their cage!!!”
On Wednesday (July 8), Keeneland said VanMeter is banned from the premises, including participation by his sales company, while the track reviews circumstances related to the recent online “reprehensible comments.”
Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, tweeted that the NTRA will no longer accept financial contributions from VanMeter.
“Over the weekend, comments I made on a private page of a social media platform surfaced which have since come under scrutiny due to their racist nature,” VanMeter wrote in a statement to the Thoroughbred Daily News. “I will not attempt to deny that I wrote the comments, nor will I attempt to justify my actions. Certainly, I am frustrated with the current social situation in our country, however, what I wrote was unjustifiable. I was wrong and am disgusted by my actions.”