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Hours after War of Will's win at Preakness, Belmont Stakes field begins to take shape

Tyler Gaffalione aboard War of Will poses for

Tyler Gaffalione aboard War of Will poses for photos after winning the 144th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico race course on Saturday in Baltimore. Credit: AP / Steve Helber

BALTIMORE — The plans are for War of Will to be there, and Tacitus, too. Game Winner is a possibility, and Everfast and Owendale are being considered. The potential field for the 151st Belmont Stakes began to take shape Sunday morning.

Preakness winner War of Will would be an attractive candidate. “I’d say right now there’s an extremely good shot we’ll be there,” trainer Mark Casse said about 12 hours after his first victory in a Triple Crown race.

“He’s great this morning. 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 while 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?”

Casse said he received about 400 texts and emails, including a message from Gary West, co-owner of disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security. “I got a very nice email from Gary congratulating us and [owner] Gary Barber,” Casse said.

West and Casse had been sniping at each other in the media in the aftermath of the Derby, in which Maximum Security impeded War of Will, who was fortunate not to fall. West also owns Game Winner, last year’s 2-year-old champion who sat out the Preakness after being fifth in the Derby. On Thursday, trainer Bob Baffert said he was “leaving the door open” for Game Winner to go in the Belmont.

The 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion” will climax a three-day weekend with 18 graded stakes, including eight Grade I events June 8.      

Trainer Bill Mott has ruled out Derby winner Country House from the Belmont, but Tacitus has been a go since the day after his third-place finish at Churchill Downs. Tacitus is a son of Tapit, who sired three of the last five Belmont winners — Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit (2017).

The rangy gray colt breezed a half-mile in 48.41 seconds Saturday at Belmont Park in his first timed workout since the May 4 Derby. Jose Ortiz had to check Tacitus briefly on the far turn in Louisville, which probably kept him from challenging seriously in the stretch.

“We were very happy with Tacitus’ effort in the Derby,” Mott said. “We always suspected he’d do well at a mile and a quarter.”

Kentucky-based trainer Brad Cox, a rising young star, came up big in the Preakness. His duo of Owendale and pacesetter Warrior’s Charge were third and fourth, respectively, with Owendale missing second by a nose behind Dale Romans’ fast-closing 29-1 shot, Everfast.

“Very pleased with both of them,” Cox said. “Warrior’s Charge ran incredibly hard, and Owendale ran great.” Cox said Sunday that Owendale will be considered for the Belmont.

Everfast, the surprise of the Preakness, was a late addition to the field of 13, not arriving until Thursday. He’s 1-for-11, with 10 losses in a row, but his performance felt almost as good as a win to Romans, who will point him to the Belmont. Everfast fell short by only 1¼ lengths, surging from 11th after 6 furlongs.

“Second in any classic is great,” said Romans, who won the 2011 Preakness with Shackleford. “You could see he had the momentum. For a minute, I thought we were going to win.”

Jockey Joel Rosario agreed. “We almost had it,” he said. “He ran great. We have a great shot at the Belmont.”

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