From Bargain Purchase to Emerging Star: War Like Goddess Invades the Breeders’ Cup

War Like Goddess, with Julien Leparoux in the irons, earned an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf by winning the Flower Bowl Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 4. (Eclipse Sportswire)

War Like Goddess is viewed as a rising turf star that has the potential to stage a dazzling show at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar. She once was a yearling no one wanted.

beginner Takeaways

War Like Goddess is living proof of the phrase common in Thoroughbred racing, "A good horse can come from anywhere." She was purchased for only $30,000 as a 2-year-old by owner George Krikorian.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott gave War Like Goddess plenty of time to develop. She did not race until September of her 3-year-old season; many horses start racing at age 2.

War Like Goddess won her first start and has only lost once in six starts since then. She earned an automatic bid to the Breeders' Cup with her win at Saratoga on Sept. 4.

The daughter of champion turf male English Channel made such a poor appearance at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale that she failed to elicit one bid. She continued to be largely overlooked as a 2-year-old the following June when she was made available at a sale held by the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company that typically features juveniles close to being ready-made runners.

Donato Lanni, representing owner George Krikorian, saw that War Like Goddess was anything but a ready-made runner. There would be no instant gratification with her.

“When you looked at her, she was this big, leggy, immature-looking filly,” Lanni recalled of the mid-April foal. “And then you look at the pedigree and you put it together and say, ‘This filly is going to need some time.’”

Most owners balk at taking on a project that will require paying months of bills with no immediate return and no certainty of any kind of reward. Krikorian is not most owners.

When Lanni sought the go-ahead to pursue her, anticipating that bidding would be light, Krikorian had questions.

“Why is she so inexpensive? What’s wrong with her? Does she vet?”

Lanni assured him that she had passed a veterinary exam. She had some shin issues that could easily be overcome.

“Is she crooked?” Krikorian asked.

Lanni assured him that her conformation was good. She was not crooked.

He also advised the owner that she would need at least a year to develop and that it would be wise to hire Bill Mott, a Hall of Famer known for patience, to train her.

Krikorian (right) leads his filly to the winner’s circle. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

Krikorian quickly jumped on board. “I have a lot of respect for Donato as an agent. He’s one of the best out there, for sure,” he said. “When he calls and tells me he sees a horse he likes, I have a lot of respect for that. I have no problem saying ‘Yes,’ to purchase that horse.”

Krikorian, a veteran owner, understands the gamble that accompanies every acquisition is part of the challenge in the high-risk, high-reward proposition that is racing.

“You never know what is going to happen,” Krikorian said of what turned out to be a grand $30,000 bargain. “Donato thought this might turn out to be a good horse. The way she was built physically, she needed time to grow into herself. With that in mind, the expectations were ‘Let’s just see what happens and develops over the coming months.’ And that’s what we did.”

Lanni never attached grand expectations to her. “I didn’t know what kind of horse she was going to end up being,” he said. “I knew if we gave her the time, we’d have fun with her. I just didn’t know how much fun we would have with her, where she would take us.”

With Mott being allowed all of the time he needed, War Like Goddess did not debut until last Sept. 26. She won by three-quarters of a length at a mile and an eighth on the turf at Churchill Downs and followed that with an allowance victory approximately one month later in her only other start last season.

Then Mott gave her more time, time to grow, time to learn what racing is all about. She made an inauspicious debut at 4, shying away from a foe in the early running of the Grade 3 The Very One Stakes at Gulfstream Park before launching a six-wide bid that left her fifth behind talented stablemate Antoinette on Feb. 27.

No one could have imagined then that it would launch a four-race winning streak that will have all eyes riveted to her as a prime contender at the Breeders’ Cup. Yet that is exactly what happened.

On March 27, she got up by a nose in the 1 3/8-mile Grade 3 Orchid Stakes at Gulfstream. Then it was on to Keeneland, to win the 1 ½-mile Grade 3 Bewitch Stakes by 3 ¾ lengths in late April. After that, she was given more time to gear up for the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. She blew away her competition there by 3 ¼ lengths in the Grade 2 Glens Falls Stakes with an overpowering six-wide burst in that 1 ½-mile contest.

Mott finally deemed her ready to take the biggest step of all, to Grade 1 competition. She again displayed a lethal closing kick to pull away by 2 ¼ lengths for regular rider Julien Leparoux in the $600,000 Flower Bowl Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 4. That decisive score secured an automatic, fees-paid berth in the $2 million Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf while extending her near-perfect record to six victories in seven lifetime starts. The yearling everyone rejected is closing in on millionaire status with earnings of $713,684.

“She has developed very nicely. As a 2-year-old, she was kind of a spindly little girl,” Mott noted. “But she has filled out, gotten stronger and she is very professional.”

Krikorian could not be more pleased as he looks to the Breeders’ Cup and beyond. “If she stays healthy, we’d be looking to run her next year. She’s only 4. She hasn’t had that many races,” he said. “I’m hoping she stays healthy and we get to have her around for a long time.”

So does War Like Goddess’ growing fan base.

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