Another week in the summer of 2020 and another seven days of Thoroughbred bliss. Here are a few thoughts on some of the things happening in the sport of kings.
WAR OF WILL PROVES HIS WORTH
Like any athlete, horses go through peaks and valleys. One of the true testaments to the quality of a competitor is can they regain that winning form against top competition. We found out a little something about one particular runner in the Maker’s Mark Mile on June 10 at Keeneland.
A hard-knocking horse, War of Will is one that runs with courage and conviction. Having started his career as a two-year old on turf, this son of War Front didn’t find the success his team thought he was capable of. Trainer Mark Casse switched him to dirt as a three-year old and bam he was a Kentucky Derby contender after a three race dirt win streak early in his three-year od season.
The Triple Crown series showed everyone what kind of competitor this Kentucky-bred had become. After finishing a bothered seventh in the Run for the Roses, Casse’s charge proved where there’s a Will there’s a way as he flat put on a show in winning the Preakness Stakes. The Belmont Stakes didn’t work out quite the way he wanted as stable mate Sir Winston earned the honors while War of Will finished ninth. However, the feather here is he was the only colt to run in all three legs.
Fast-forward to 2020 and a four-year old Will was back on the grass as Casse decided it was time to give turf another try. His first start on the West coast didn’t exactly yield what the veteran trainer wanted. A sixth place finish at Santa Anita in the Shoemaker Mile the told them it was time to give it another go on grass as his pedigree says yes.
The Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland was the target this time. Facing an imposing field of 11 others, this was a huge grade 1 test. Turf titans like Raging Bull and NoParole were coming in out of the Chad Brown barn and West coast heavy hitter Next Shares and was also in the gates. The lineup was full of stars for sure, but somebody forgot to tell War of Will he couldn’t catch’em.
Breaking alertly, jockey Tyler Gafflione masterfully guided him into a great spot as he stalked a solid early pace (23.09 opening quarter, 46.91 half mile). Turning for home, it looked as if the Will was going to be on the short end again as the front-running Parlor just kept going. And then it happened and we all knew why Casse had him back on the lawn.
Displaying an amazing turn of foot, War of Will had a huge late burst and got past Parlor in the final jump at the wire. Good grass runners can possess big late kicks which makes for exciting finishes. That is exactly what we had in this one.
The Maker’s Mark was a real feel good race for the War of Will team. Not only did it show his desire to win, but also gives him grade one wins on dirt and turf. People that know that game understand winning on multiple surfaces at the sport’s highest level is NEVER easy.
Once again we know, where there’s a Will there’s a way.
RUSHING FALL IS A REAL RACEHORSE
As a sport with many great qualities, Thoroughbred racing has one thing fans would like to see change. They want runners to stay in training longer. Sometimes it seems the business side of the sport pulls horses off the track sooner than some would like, but as we all should know, money makes the world go round.
Rushing Fall has been one of the exceptions. Highly regarded at the ages of two, three, and four, she is now in a five-year old season. That means fans have become familiar with her brilliance. A grade 1 winner in each of her previous seasons, this daughter of More Than Ready was preparing to make it four years in a row in the Jennie Wiley Stakes at Keeneland on July 11.
Having won this race in 2019, this 2020 edition was going to be no gift as a sparkling lineup of seven challengers wen to post in denial. Magnificently making her way to the gate, Rushing Fall looked every bit the beauty queen. Then the gates opened and she became even prettier.
Assuming a stalking spot behind West Coast speedster Jolie Olimpica, this Chad Brown trainee was going to have her work cut out. If she was going to get that grade 1 here, it would require a top performance..
A solid opening quarter mile (23.42) was followed by a quicker one (22.92) to the half mile. The leader was looking strong and others in the top flight (Toinette, Julet Foxtrot) looked poised to dethrone the defending champ. Then it happened.
As the stretch unfolded, Rushing Fall put her class fully on display. Swinging past the front runner under jockey Javier Castellano, her powerful late stride was unleashed. A gallant Jolie Olimpica could simply not deny this queen her crown at Keeneland. Winning by a widening ¾ of a length, Rushing Fall had another grade 1 win.
This edition of the Jenny Wiley marked her tenth win in thirteen lifetime starts and brought her career earnings to $2,278,000.. But here is the real defining moment about this race. Rushing Fall earned this win by turning in a track record (1:39.02) for the mile and a sixteenth.
“She’s a real racehorse for sure,” says Bob Edwards, spokesperson for owners e Five Racing Thoroughbreds. ”She just keeps getting better and better. I think she looks the best she has ever looked. I think she checks all the boxes.”
After that Jenny Wiley win the answer is …”No doubt on the box checking.”