By Jason Gonzalez: Contributor NYSportsday.com
Baltimore- Regardless of the fact that the Triple Crown wasn’t up for grabs, it still didn’t deter the raucous crowd of 131,256 from packing Pimlico Race Course to the rafters. Fans alike witnessed bay colt, War of Will, cross the finish line first in the 144th running of the Preakness Stakes. With the victory among the field of 13, War of Will jockey, Tyler Gaffalione won his first classic.
“I’m just so happy for [trainer] Mark [Casse] and his team, they do a fabulous job,” said Gaffalione, 24, upon the completion of the race. “[Owner] Mr. [Gary] Barber has given me so many opportunities and I’m just so happy for them. I’m very happy for Mark to get his first classic win. I am very happy for the horse, he deserved it more than anything. He’s so special.”
Barber is a South African film producer. He wasn’t in attendance on Saturday night due to attending the Cannes Film Festival in France.
War of Will found room on the rail, completing the 1 3/16-mile course at 1:54:34, by 1 ¼ lengths. War of Will hit the wire just in time, edging out 25-1 longshot Everfast, who was ridden by jockey Joel Rosario by a nose, and then it was Owendale, who came in in 3rd rounding out the board. Lastly, Warrior’s Charge finished in the money, coming in at 4th.
In the past, Casse has described his pride as being “a little different” from the rest of the pack. Obviously, the head trainer was referring to the horse’s capabilities as well as it’s disposition. Just two weeks ago, at the Kentucky Derby, War of Will was in jeopardy of clipping heels with Maximum Security, which could have potentially prompted a spill [A domino effect type of accident]. This immediately triggered Country House jockey, Flavien Prat, to challenge the call of Maximum Security winning the Derby by filing an interference call. The call was eventually supported by the stewards declaring Country House the winner of the Derby.
It appears that the last leg of the triple crown is next on the agenda for War of Will. Both Gaffalione and Casse expressed a desire to run in the Belmont Stakes three weeks from now [June 8], in Elmont, Long Island.
“That’s us. That’s what we do. We run,” said Casse. “There’s only three triple crown races. They’re pretty important. I think if you can do it, you should do it.”
The streak of bizarre occurrences in the triple crown races remain intact. Besides Maximum Security being disqualified for interference at Churchhill Downs, Country House didn’t compete in the Preakness due to a cough, and right at the start of the Preakness, veteran jockey Johnny Velasquez was tossed off his mount, Bodexpress, while coming out the gate. Fortunately, Velasquez was uninjured, but he is still searching for his first Preakness win.
Considering everything that has transpired thus far in the first two races, are there any concerns for the duo of Gaffalione and Casse as they head to Belmont Racetrack?
“I think we have already seen our fair share of bizarre.” Casse said jokingly, to not jinx things in the immediate future.
As a 6-1 third choice at post time, the payout for War of Will was $14.20 on a $2 bet to win [1st], $7.40 on a $2 bet to place [2nd] and $5.40 on a $2 bet to show [3rd]. Runner-ups Everfast paid $32 and $14.40, while Owendale paid $6. The overall betting handle amassed a grand total of $99,852,653, a Preakness record.
Many in attendance were calling a War of Will victory, redemption for what had happened to him at the Derby.
“I’m not calling it redemption,” said Casse. “You know what, I didn’t feel like he got his [War of Will] fair shot and that’s all I wanted-a fair shot. He showed what he had today.”
But judging by Gaffalione’s body language it seemed as if he wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labor while they were still ripe per say. So before harping on what was next, he just wanted to soak it all up.
“It really hasn’t even hit me yet. I can’t put it into words,” said an emotional Gaffalione. “I can’t thank my family enough for all of the support. Of course, my valet down in Florida, Jay Glass, and my agent, Matt Muzikar. It’s a great team effort, I’m just so thankful.”