Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers, and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on Saturday, May 4, at Churchill Downs.
The series continues this week with trainer Mark Casse, who saddles War of Will in the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford on Saturday at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The promising 3-year-old drew outside, post-position 14, for the 1 1/16-mile contest. Tyler Gaffalione will ride War of Will in the Risen Star.
War of Will, a War Front colt owned by Gary Barber, made his first four starts on turf, placing second in the Grade 1 Summer Stakes at Woodbine and taking fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He earned his first victory when he romped by five lengths in his dirt debut on Nov. 24 at Churchill Downs and followed that with an equally impressive four-length win in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes, run at one mile and 70 yards on Jan. 19 at Fair Grounds.
PEDULLA: Your brother, Justin, purchased War of Will on behalf of Gary Barber as a 2-year-old at a sale in France. What drew Justin to the horse?
CASSE: Gary has had some success with War Front, so he is a horse we are always looking at. Justin makes most of the international sales. He was over there and liked him. He ran it by Gary and it appealed to Gary and the rest is history.
PEDULLA: He certainly showed some ability on turf. What led you to try dirt?
CASSE: He trains like a super horse on the dirt. He can do anything. He’s just an extremely talented horse. We had been flirting with running him on dirt for a long time. After the Breeders’ Cup, it just worked out.
PEDULLA: Is it encouraging to have a win at Churchill?
CASSE: It never hurts your feelings when you are trying to make it to the first Saturday in May if you’ve already won at Churchill.
PEDULLA: Did Gary Barber have input as far as the decision to turn to dirt?
CASSE: Oh, yes, very much so. Gary is a hands-on guy. We talk at least once or twice a day. He’s also the type of guy who is not afraid to step out of the box and be wrong. There is a saying I go by all the time, ‘If you are afraid to step off first, you can’t steal second.’ Gary has never been afraid to step off first. I think we make a good team. We’re going to get caught stealing sometimes, but we will try it.
PEDULLA: Why did you make the decision to train and run at Fair Grounds?
CASSE: Of all the places I’ve been for the winter time to develop a young horse, I think the Fair Grounds is an extremely good place for them. Last year, we just missed winning the [Longines] Kentucky Oaks with Wonder Gadot, who was at the Fair Grounds all winter.
PEDULLA: You drew outside for the Risen Star. Does that bother you?
CASSE: If you said to me, ‘You’re going to be one or two or you could take 14,’ I would have preferred to be 14.
PEDULLA: How does Tyler fit this horse?
CASSE: Tyler is just a star. He can do anything. He’s a strong, strong rider. He’s a strong finisher. He’s going to be a superstar. He already is in his own right. Hopefully, the two of them can team up and do it together.
PEDULLA: Does his relative inexperience worry you?
CASSE: Not in the least.
PEDULLA: What are your plans for War of Will beyond Saturday?
CASSE: As long as he’s healthy and happy, we’re going to stay in New Orleans. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?