Mark Casse showed up at Pimlico Race Course before 6:00 a.m. May 19 to check on War of Will, his Preakness Stakes winner.
Gary Barber's bay colt appeared to be in good order as he walked the shedrow with Kim Carroll on the shank the morning after taking the second jewel in the Triple Crown by 1 ¼ lengths, and was brought out briefly to meet the media before he was returned to his stall. He is set to ship to Keeneland Monday, where assistant trainer David Carroll will oversee his care, but he might not stay in the bluegrass long. Sunday, Casse was bullish on a potential run in the June 8 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.
"He's great this morning," the trainer said. "I would say there's an extremely good shot we'll be there (in the Belmont). Now it's just a matter of him saying he doesn't want to go, that would be just if he was lethargic or something (during) training.
"There's only three Triple Crown races. They're pretty important, and I think if you can do it, you should do it. ... The Belmont is the Belmont. It's the third leg of the Triple Crown. Who doesn't want to win it?"
Preakness runner-up Everfast and third-place finisher Owendale are both among those under consideration for the 1 ½-mile Belmont. So is Tacitus, who bypassed the Preakness after running third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
War of Will, who gave Casse, Barber and jockey Tyler Gaffalione their first victories in a Triple Crown race, could be the only horse to run in all three spring classics for 3-year-olds. The son of War Front was at the center of the potentially catastrophic entanglement in the May 4 Kentucky Derby, when first-place finisher Maximum Security came out into War of Will's path. War of Will finished eighth and was moved up to seventh upon Maximum Security's disqualification to 17th, which awarded the victory to second-place finisher Country House.
Should War of Will compete in all three Triple Crown races, Casse said, "It would just show he's tough and able to overcome things. We saw yesterday that the Derby was very, very trying. I was worried about that with him. He was a little foot sore afterwards.
"The pace was extremely hot (in the Preakness) and you saw two deep closers come (to finish second and third). I didn't realize how deep. They were behind Bodexpress (who continued to run after unseating jockey John Velazquez at the start). For our horse to continue, he was pretty close to the pace and it was hot. I liked the fact that, after the race when they were galloping out, he took off again. He was not going to let them go by."
Casse dispelled concerns Sunday morning over his colt's soundness following the race, and reminded the press of his neurologically related gait abnormality known as stringhalt.
"He's got stringhalt," the trainer said. "I've trained a lot of horses that have had it. A lot of harness horses have it. He has a kind of funny action behind. It can be there for a couple days and it can go away. I thought after the race it exaggerated it a little more, but by the next morning he was fine.
"A lot of people said to me afterwards, 'Oh, is he okay?' I said, 'I decided after worrying about it 150 times, I'm not going to worry about it any more. ... It's not something you see very often with Thoroughbreds. I don't ever dream about winning things, but I thought about, I had a feeling, if he wins one of these big races and he has cameras on him, when he comes back, they're all going to think he's got a (hurt) back leg or something."
Calumet Farm's longshot Everfast, who made an impressive late run along the rail to finish second in the Preakness, headed back to trainer Dale Romans' barn at Churchill Downs Sunday morning.
The Belmont will be taken under serious consideration for the son of Take Charge Indy, Romans said after Everfast nosed out Owendale for second-place money Saturday.
Trainer Brad Cox, who finished third with Owendale and fourth with Warrior's Charge in the trainer's Triple Crown debut, was also considering the Belmont for Owendale after his late wide rally to finish 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Warrior's Charge, who lost by 2 ½ lengths after setting a strong pace.
Owendale and Warrior's Charge were both scheduled to van back to Churchill Sunday.
"They both cooled out fine, actually pretty quick too, considering to ask them to do something they'd never done before, going that far," Cox said. "Warrior's Charge, as fast as he went early, he looked great his morning. His energy is good. Same thing with Owendale.
"Warrior's Charge, we wouldn't even consider the Belmont with him, obviously," Cox added. "The mile and a half is a touch far. Owendale, we'll think about it. We'll see how he's moving. It would have a lot to do with who's running, and, first of all, how he's doing. It's a lot back in three weeks. But it's a big purse and it's a prestigious race, and these horses only get one shot in their 3-year-old year."