War of Will wins 144th Preakness Stakes

Washington (AFP) –


War of Will won the 144th Preakness Stakes on Saturday, holding off a field that included a riderless horse to give trainer Mark Casse his first Triple Crown race triumph.

War of Will, who had a tough ride at the Kentucky Derby, had a smooth trip from the number one post under jockey Tyler Gaffalione, taking the lead at the top of the stretch and hanging on to beat late-charging Everfast by 1 1/4 lengths. Owendale was third.

An inquiry was briefly put up on the board at Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore, Maryland, but was quickly taken down.

Bodexpress threw Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez coming out of the starting gate and with outriders unable to catch him ran with the field past the finish line.

That was the biggest drama of the day, a relief after the controversial Kentucky Derby saw Maximum Security cross the line first before he was demoted to 17th for interfering with another horse with Country House declared the winner.

The absence of both of those horses -- the first time since 1996 that the Kentucky Derby winner failed to start the Preakness -- took a little luster from the race.

But it was a sweet comeback for War of Will, who stewards ruled was hindered by Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby as they turned for home.

"This is even I think probably more special given everything that we've been through," Casse, 58, said. "I'm not even calling it redemption.

"I didn't feel like he got his fair shot (in Kentucky) and that's all I wanted, fair shot. And he showed what he had today."

Gaffalione, 24, notched the biggest win of his career.

"It really hasn't even hit me yet," he said. "I can't even put it into words."

Velazquez said he was "good" after his frightening tumble coming out of the gate.

"He was just not behaving good in the gate," Velazquez said of Bodexpress. "He got me against the wall in the gate.

"When the doors opened, I was off right from the start and he kind of jumped sideways, and I had my feet out of the irons so I lost my balance and I went off."

- Baffert's favorite beaten -

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, seeking a record eighth Preakness win, sent Improbable off as the favorite -- just as he was in the Kentucky Derby -- but the horse, ridden this time by veteran Mike Smith, finished sixth.

The undisputed outcome was a relief in the wake of the Derby controversy, which promises to linger thanks to the lawsuit filed by the owners of Maximum Security in a bid to have the horse reinstated.

That hasn't been the worst of US horse racing's woes in 2019, with the death of 23 horses in the space of three months at Santa Anita Park in California putting the sport under scrutiny.

There was another grim reminder of racing's dangers on the eve of the Preakness when Congrats Girl, running in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness Stakes, collapsed and died just past the post after being eased through the final furlong at Pimlico.