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War of Will, Tacitus duel for Belmont finale

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New York (AFP)

War of Will is chasing a Preakness-Belmont Stakes double on Saturday as the curtain comes down on US horse racing's Triple Crown season in New York.

The Mark Casse-trained colt starts at 2-1 for the third leg of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park, three weeks after prevailing at Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore.

For the first time this season, War of Will has been given a favorable draw, starting from post nine in a field of 10 after being handed the inside rail at the Kentucky Derby.

A win at Belmont Park this weekend would cap a remarkable month for trainer Casse, who had waited more than 30 years for his first win in a Triple Crown race before War of Will powered to victory in Baltimore last month.

But Casse, who also has Sir Winston in the starting gate on Saturday, said he is not dwelling on the possibility of War of Will doing the double.

- Peak condition -

"I learned a long time ago to not think about that kind of stuff," Casse said.

"Right now, the only thing I'm focusing on is getting there. There's so many variables and so many things that can happen, that I just focus on the future."

Casse believes War of Will is in peak condition for the event, having put on weight since the start of the season.

"I think he's put on 40-50 pounds and that's what we've been looking for," Casse said.

"We kind of know everyone in the field by now. I tend to just worry about my horses and not anybody else's. If the pace is slow, he'll probably be on the lead. If it's quick, hopefully he'll sit behind the pacesetters."

In terms of pedigree, War of Will looks an obvious contender. He is the only Grade 1 race winner in the field, and the only horse contesting all three Triple Crown races this year.

"I think he's got improvement in him," Casse said. "I think he's a better horse even than what you saw in the Preakness."

The biggest challenge is expected to come from the highly rated Tacitus, who had been touted as a possible Kentucky Derby contender only to finish in third place after the disqualification of Maximum Security.

Tacitus jockey Jose Ortiz pointed to the horse's quick finish at Churchill Downs as an indicator that he would have plenty in the tank at Belmont Park, where he will start alongside War of Will on the outside.

"My horse ran a huge race," Ortiz said of the Derby performance. "He was digging in late. I have no excuse, but we were a little unlucky because the pace didn't collapse.

"In the Belmont, he will be much better running 1.5 miles," said Ortiz.

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