TORONTO — Mark Casse is hoping to provide the star power for this year's $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
The veteran trainer is pointing War of Will, the 2019 Preakness Stakes winner, towards the Mile. The Grade 1 turf event is scheduled for Sept. 19 at Woodbine Racetrack.
"Gary (owner Gary Barber) loves Woodbine," Casse said during a telephone interview Tuesday. "And we've had pretty good luck there so if something works, why change it?"
Casse won the Mile in 2016 (filly Tepin) and World Approval (2017) and was second in 2019 when Barber's Got Stormy, the 7-5 favourite, finished behind 44-1 long-shot El Tormenta.
After winning the Mile, World Approval went on to capture the '17 Breeders' Cup Mile event. Tepin, the '15 Breeders' Cup Mile champion, was second in the 2016 race while Got Stormy was runner-up in the '19 Breeders' Cup Mile.
War of Will, a four-year-old bay colt, was a winner his last time out. He captured the Grade 1 US$300,000 Maker's Mark Mile on grass July 10 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., following a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 $300,000 Shoemaker Mile turf race May 25 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.
The Kentucky-bred War of Will has made 16 career starts, finishing in the money eight times (five wins, once second, twice third). He's amassed earnings over $1.796 million
One reason why Casse — Canada's top throughbred trainer an unprecedented 11 times — has put the Woodbine Mile on War of Will's radar is a win in that event would earn the horse a fees-paid berth in the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland on Nov. 6-7. Another is Woodbine's E.P. Taylor turf course.
War of Will has a mild form of stringhalt, which is a neurological condition. It's usually seen in one or both of a horse's hind legs and involves a sharp upward motion of the leg, then a pause before a continuation of the leg forward to the ground.
"We've found that when he runs on the turf, it doesn't affect that as much," Casse said. "When he gets fatigued it gets a little more pronounced but we've found when he runs on turf he doesn't do that.
"I think he'll love the turf course at Woodbine. The turf is easier on him a little bit."
If War of Will runs at the Toronto oval, he'll do so with a different jockey. Quarantine restrictions will prevent regular rider Tyler Gaffalione from making the trip to Canada so Casse said Woodbine's Rafael Hernandez will get the mount.
Hernandez, a 35-year-old native of Puerto Rico, rode Shaman's Ghost to victory in the 2015 Queen's Plate. He spent the winter riding at both Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., and Fairmount Park in Collinsville, Ill., but spent 14 days in quarantine before being able to resume riding at Woodbine.
Hernandez currently leads Woodbine's jockey standings with 44 wins in 198 mounts. He's also finished second 30 times and third on 22 occasions and his mounts have earned over $1.5 million.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2020
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press