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War of Will delivers little fight in Belmont Stakes

War of Will runs the track at Belmont

War of Will runs the track at Belmont Park on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Glancing back through the charts for this year’s Triple Crown races won’t adequately tell the tale of War of Will, who endured yet another rough trip in Saturday’s 151st running of the Belmont Stakes.

The charts will show that the Mark Casse-trained colt was the only horse to run in all three legs. But lost among the numbers will be the fact that War of Will was involved in each of the race’s central moment.

That meant winning the Preakness with a spotless ride from jockey Tyler Gaffalione. But in the Kentucky Derby, that meant a near-disastrous collision that was the cause for a controversial disqualification. And in Saturday’s 1 1/2-mile Belmont, that meant more contact with another horse.

War of Will could not become the first horse since Afleet Alex in 2005 to win both the Preakness and Belmont after not winning the Derby, instead finishing ninth out of 10 horses on Saturday, nearly seven lengths behind Sir Winston.

War of Will lost his footing briefly coming out of the starting gate and made light contact with Tacitus but recovered nicely and entered the backstretch competitive in the pack, running between third and fifth.

But Sir Winston, also trained by Casse, came off the rail around the final turn and into the stretch, swung wide and cut off War of Will. Those horses didn’t bump and there was no post-race inquiry, a good thing for thoroughbred racing after the Derby fallout.

Still, War of Will subsequently did bump again with Tacitus, who went on to finish second a

length back.

Jockey Tyler Gaffalione, though, did not believe War of Will’s trip was a factor in the disappointing finish.

“I had a beautiful trip,” Gaffalione said. “He relaxed so nicely. He got caught a little bit wide but he was just so comfortable. He was in a nice rhythm and approaching the quarter pole. I squeezed on him a little bit and he just didn’t have that punch like he normally does.”

Running three Grade 1 stakes in a grueling five weeks likely had much more to do with Saturday’s showing.

“It’s hard to say,” Gaffalione said. “But I would definitely take that into account. He ran hard the last few races. Today just wasn’t his day.”

The Derby might have been his day with a cleaner trip, though Maximum Security crossed the finish line first.

But War of Will was just starting to switch gears turning for home at Churchill Downs when Maximum Security veered nearly three lanes to his right, cutting off War of Will and creating a dangerous situation where the horses’ legs nearly clipped. That could have led to a horrific spill in the sport’s marquee race.

It did lead to a lengthy post-race inquiry that ended with Maximum Security’s disqualification and 65-1 shot Country House being declared the winner. War of Will was seventh.

So, in the end, this Triple Crown run was one of “what ifs” for War of Will.

“I could see where War of Will was struggling a little bit,” Casse said. “He looked like maybe he was a little flat today.”

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