BALTIMORE — War of Will’s trainer Mark Casse only wanted one thing: A fair shot at winning the 144th Preakness Stakes.
When he received his wish Saturday at Pimlico, it resulted in the first Preakness win for the trainer and jockey Tyler Gaffalione. War of Will was among the horses most directly affected two weeks earlier at the Kentucky Derby by melee caused by the interference that led to Maximum Security’s ejection.
“It’s sweet. I’ve been following horse racing since I was like 5, so 50-some years, and the Preakness has always been huge to me,” Casse said. “I just wanted a fair shot. That’s all I wanted … A lot of people said, ‘Oh, is this revenge?’ No. I just wanted to win.”
War of Will, owned by Gary Barber, began against the rail in the Kentucky Derby and had in improbable misfortune to draw the 1 position for a second race in a row. Casse felt he broke too aggressively that day, so on Saturday he instructed his jockey to warm up lightly and keep the thoroughbred calm prior to the race.
War of Will began his advance as the pack emerged from the far turn and found an opening along the inner rail.
“The horse broke well. He relaxed more than usual today. That was the key. We warmed him up to do so. Mark said ‘Just jog him today, let him walk, try and keep him as calm as possible,’ and it worked out,” Gaffalione said. “We just followed Warrior’s Charge the whole way around there. He came off the fence going into the turn and I thought about waiting to go outside him, but he just kept going out, out, out. So, I took my shot and went through there. The horse didn’t hesitate and he finished the job.”
Like the first leg of the Triple Crown, the middle jewel wasn’t without a bit of chaos. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez was thrown from his horse, Bodexpress, right from the gate. Bodexpress continued to race with the pack.
“He was just not behaving good in the gate. He was not standing really well. He got me up against the wall in the gate. When the doors opened, I was standing upright from the start and I kind of jumped off sideways,” Velazquez said. “I’m good. It’s just disappointing when you come in here for a big race like this. Things like this happen with horses, but it’s disappointing.”
Gaffalione said he did not realize there was a riderless horse in the race until it was over and he heard people shouting “Loose horse.”
Maximum Security did not run Saturday following his disqualification two weeks ago after finishing the race first. Nor did Country House, the eventual winner, marking the first time since 1996 that the Kentucky Derby winner did not participate in the Preakness, eliminating the possibility of a Triple Crown.
The top four Derby finishers did not run in Saturday’s second leg.
“This is the Preakness. We just won the Preakness,” Casse responded to a question about the field. “I really don’t care who was in it.”
Everfast placed second, followed by Owendale and Warrior’s Charge. Win Win Win, trained by Mike Trombetta at Fair Hill Training Center, came in seventh, just behind legendary trainer Bob Baffert’s 5-1 favorite Improbable.
Win Win Win was one of only four horses to run both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
“I thought he ran OK,” Trombetta said. “We would have all loved to have done a little better, but he was in it for a fight and I can’t get mad at him. He gave it a good effort.”
Win Win Win was the second horse the Cecil County-based trainer has brought to the Triple Crown’s middle jewel. In 2006, he guided Sweetnorthernsaint to a second-place finish.
Alwaysmining, who also trains at Fair Hill, sought to become the first Maryland-bred horse to win the Preakness since Deputed Testamony in 1983. Trainer Kelly Rubley had the chance to become the first female trainer ever to win a Triple Crown race. The local horse appeared ready to make a push out of the final turn, but abruptly gave way and finished 11th.
“I thought he’d run better,” jockey Daniel Centeno said. “We tried to make a move around the turn, but he just stopped.”
Rubley said she believes Alwaysmining, bred in Fallston, is alright.
“He appears to be fine. We’re waiting to scope and evaluate him,” Rubley said. “He appeared to stop and I don’t know what the reason for that is.”
Rubley, a former teacher and administrator, has only been a trainer for five years and became just the 16th female trainer to bring a horse to the Preakness. Alwaysmining had won his previous six races.
In what could prove to be the penultimate Preakness at Pimlico, a recent trend of miserable weather for the race was bucked as the 131,256 in attendance enjoyed a warm and clear day. The total betting handle of $99,852,653 was a Preakness record.
The possibility of the Preakness Stakes leaving Pimlico Race Course and the city of Baltimore engulfed the event all weekend. The track’s owner, The Stronach Group, said the race will be run at its longtime home through 2020, but has made no further commitment.
A plane flew over the track with a banner trailing that read “STRONACH KEEP PREAKNESS IN PIMLICO,” throughout the day.
A section of nearly 7,000 seats in the grandstand had to be closed off because they were deemed unsafe about a month ago. Plumbing failures closed several restrooms on Saturday.
The city is suing to gain control of Pimlico through condemnation claims. The Stronach Group has spent almost 90 percent of the state subsidies it has received in the past five years on improvements to its other race track – Laurel Park – while allowing Pimlico to fall into despair, according to a February Baltimore Sun report. The group plans to build a “super track” at Laurel that would eventually host the Preakness.
Follow Sean Grogan on Twitter: @Sean_CecilWhig