Mark Casse’s Belmont Diary: Final Preparations for the Triple Crown’s Third Jewel

Trainer Mark Casse brings Preakness Stakes winner War of Will and a second starter, Sir Winston, to Saturday’s Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Trainer Mark Casse, inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2016, broke through with his first victory in a Triple Crown race when War of Will rebounded from a star-crossed trip in the Kentucky Derby to win the Preakness Stakes.

Casse grew up in racing. His father, Norman, ran Cardinal Hill Farm in Ocala, Fla., and was one of the founders of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company. Mark obtained his trainer’s license when he was 17. He was responsible for developing Tepin, the Eclipse Award winner as champion turf mare in 2015 who captured the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot the following year.

His operation also produced recently retired Wonder Gadot, a victor last year in the Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes. War of Will, a War Front colt known as WOW around the barn, will try to add the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets to his resume Saturday at Belmont Park.

Casse agreed to share his insight in the days leading up to the mile-and-a-half “Test of the Champion” with followers of America’s Best Racing. Here is the second installment of his diary, as told to Tom Pedulla.

After War of Will won the Preakness, I made the decision to send him from Baltimore to Keeneland for a number of reasons.

I wanted him to be with David Carroll, who knows him better than anyone. The horse had lost 40 to 50 pounds after the Kentucky Derby, which was run on a sloppy track that was tough on a lot of horses. I thought some green grass and quiet surroundings would do him a world of good.

More than anything, I wanted the colt to tell us that he was ready to go on to the Belmont Stakes. I thought if I sent him directly to Belmont Park, it was almost as if I had made the decision for him. This way, I was able to keep an open mind.

I think he benefitted tremendously from his time at Keeneland. As he prepares to be the only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races, he put back on the weight he lost. David and I are very pleased with him physically and mentally. He is bright, he is eating well and he is bringing plenty of energy to his training.

On Tuesday of this week, I was planning to do nothing more than jog him. I could tell he was feeling so good that he wanted more, so we changed plans that morning and allowed him to gallop. We decided against breezing him before the Belmont simply because there was no need. He will never be fitter than he is now.

When we drew post nine in a field of 10, I joked that I was hoping for the rail in all three Triple Crown races. Actually, it is a relief to finally have an outside post. Tyler Gaffalione should have some good options. If the speed inside goes, he will tuck him in. If no one wants the lead, we will be happy to be there.

War of Will trains. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Some fans think horses with a knack for closing sharply are the ones to beat. But speed is dangerous at a mile and a half since they are all getting tired by the time that they hit the stretch. If War of Will can be in the first flight and Tyler can get him to relax, not fight him early, we will have our shot.

I have a second starter in Sir Winston, owned by Tracy Farmer, a longtime supporter of New York racing who enjoys being part of these big days. I really hoped to run Sir Winston in the Kentucky Derby. He just did not have enough points. We decided if he handled the Peter Pan Stakes well enough – he ran second, beaten by Global Campaign by a length and a quarter – that he would go on to the Belmont.

And so here we are. The only problem with Sir Winston is that he is a deep closer who would benefit from a strong pace. I am not so sure he will get that with this field. But he is an extremely talented horse who is in there for a reason. I would be surprised if he does not get a little piece of the pie.

It is going to be a big day for our team. We’ve done everything we can to prepare War of Will and Sir Winston. All we can do now is hope racing luck is on our side.

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