By J.J. Hysell
After enduring inside trips from the rail in the first two legs of the Triple Crown series, Preakness winner War of Will will get his chance at an outside run in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
The hard-luck colt, who was eighth in the Kentucky Derby but elevated to seventh after Maximum Security was disqualified, will break from post 9 in a field of 10 in the 1 ½-mile test.
The fortuitous draw was a welcome relief for trainer Mark Casse, who said his colt was hampered using energy early getting into position from the rail in the Kentucky Derby.
In the Preakness, the son of War Front got a perfect rail trip from jockey Tyler Gaffalione and was able to keep clear of Bodexpress, the loose horse who lost jockey John Velazquez at the start.
Trouble continued to swirl around War of Will Tuesday, his first morning training at Belmont. Sirens sounded as two loose horses emerged while the colt was galloping. He was unaffected by the incident.
Casse said his bay charge – who will be the only Belmont entrant to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown – has handled all the adversity thrown his way.
“He’s always had some obstacle to overcome, and he’s always been able to do it,” he said.
This time, the 12-furlong distance over the deep track known as “Big Sandy” is the challenge rather than the post.
Lining up next to War of Will in post 10 is morning line favorite Tacitus, who crossed the line fourth in the Kentucky Derby but was promoted to third.
The steel gray is one of several contenders who boast Belmont-distance breeding. Tacitus is a son of Tapit, sire of three Belmont victors (Tonalist in 2014, Creator in 2016, Tapwrit in 2017). Trained by Bill Mott, the colt’s best asset is his versatility; he can be spotted anywhere in the field and adjust to the pace scenario. Jockey Jose Ortiz, who piloted Tapwrit, will be aboard.
Another colt with Belmont bloodlines is Intrepid Heart, one of two entries for three-time Belmont-winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
Lightly-raced with just three starts, the gray son of Tapit is looking to improve upon a third-place finish in the Peter Pan at Belmont on May 11, in which he stumbled at the start. The colt is a grandson of Touch Gold, whose 1997 Belmont win denied Silver Charm a Triple Crown. Intrepid Heart has been working in blinkers and will sport the new equipment Saturday. Two-time Belmont winner Velazquez will be aboard.
Pletcher also sends out Spinoff, 18th in the Kentucky Derby after a wide trip in the slop. Javier Castellano, second three times in 12 Belmont Stakes tries, will ride Spinoff for the first time.
Changes are in store for Bourbon War – also a son of Tapit – who is looking to rebound after a disappointing eighth-place showing in the Preakness.
The Mark Hennig trainee will shed the blinkers he wore for the first time at Pimlico. He’ll also have a new jockey: three-time Belmont winner and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, who returns to the scene of last year’s Triple Crown victory with Justify. Smith will likely have Bourbon War, normally a late-rallying runner, closer to the pace.
In addition to War of Will, Casse will saddle Peter Pan runner-up Sir Winston. Both of the chestnut’s career wins were on Woodbine’s synthetic track, with his last victory in the Display Stakes on Dec. 8. Casse said the distance should suit the colt, who would benefit from a fast early pace.
Master Fencer, the only Japanese-bred horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, raised eyebrows with his strong late rally to cross the wire seventh – elevated to sixth – in that race. He’s proven in previous races he can handle longer distances. If he is victorious, his connections will receive a $1 million bonus from the New York Racing Association, offered to any Japan-based winner. Also important to note is the recent success of jockey Julien Leparoux, seeking his first Belmont Stakes win. He won five races on the card at Churchill Downs on May 27.
The overachiever of the field is Everfast, who continues to outrun his outlandish odds. The Dale Romans trainee was second in the Holy Bull Stakes at 128-1. A last-minute entry into the Preakness, he bolstered the exacta, finishing second at 29-1. At a more respectable 12-1 here, the bay colt could once again play a factor in the exotics. Luis Saez, who rode Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, gets the call aboard the most experienced contender in the field (11 starts).
Back form suggests Tax, 14th in the Kentucky Derby, could be a contender, as he was second to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial. The gelding was fitted with glue-on shoes after his work on June 1. Irad Ortiz, Jr., who piloted Creator to his Belmont Stakes win, will be in the saddle.
Longshot Joevia, winner of the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park last out, will break from the rail and likely be part of the early pace.
Post time is 6:48 p.m. ET.