‘Excellent’ Bourbon War, ‘Bright-Eyed’ War Of Will Eyeing Preakness Starts

Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable’s Bourbon War, fourth in the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park in his most recent start, has joined the probable list for the 144th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course May 18.

“He’s doing excellent. Right now, he’s probable for the Preakness,” trainer Mark Hennig said Monday morning from Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. “We had a conference call yesterday and speaking with the owners we felt like after watching the events of the weekend, the Florida horses gave a good account of themselves and we felt we were competitive with them. So, why not take a shot in the Preakness rather than the more conservative route we were thinking in the Peter Pan?”

Bourbon War closed from far back to finish fourth behind Maximum Security, Bodexpress and Code of Honor in the Florida Derby. Maximum Security finished first by 1 ¾ lengths in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs before being disqualified; Bodexpress finished off-the-board in the Derby after stalking the pace into the far turn while racing extremely wide; Code of Honor briefly put his head in front at the top of the stretch in the Run for the Roses before finishing third and being placed second due to the disqualification.

After breaking his maiden and finishing fourth in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct last year, Bourbon War made an impressive 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream Park Jan. 18 while defeating Cutting Humor (10th in Kentucky Derby) in an optional claiming allowance. The son of Tapit came back to finish second behind Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream before checking in fourth in the Florida Derby.

“He and Code of Honor have been pretty close together in their races. Maximum Security certainly showed up and held up that form from Florida, so I think it seems like a smart move to try the Preakness,” Hennig said.

Bourbon War, who hadn’t earned sufficient qualifying points to be included in the Derby field, has had three half-mile workouts, one at Gulfstream and two at Belmont, since the March 30 Florida Derby.

“He’s doing great. He seems to have really settled in up here. I like the fact that it’ll be seven weeks between races, I think that’s what it comes down to, instead of four weeks like we had between the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby.” Hennig said.

“As I’ve said all along, he’s a horse that’s still maturing and he’s not a great big horse in stature, so that little extra time is going to benefit us, I believe,” he added.

Bourbon War is scheduled to breeze at Belmont later this week in preparation of a probable start in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

“He’ll probably get a breeze in Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather here. There’s some rain in the forecast, but it looks like Thursday morning might be our best window to get a breeze in on a good racetrack,” Hennig said. “He’ll ship in the week of the race. There’s no reason to get there too early. I’d say, Wednesday at the earliest.”

Hennig has saddled a pair of Preakness starters – Eddington (3rd, 2004) and Personal Hope (4th, 1993).

“They both ran well. They were both different types, but Eddington actually came back and won the Pimlico Special the next year,” Hennig said. “It’s always fun to come to Baltimore. They take good care of us there and it’s a fun city.”

Trainer Bill Mott on Monday morning said he was “leaning toward” running adjudged Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Country House in the May 18 Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico. The Hall of Famer said that, so far, he is seeing the right signs for running the Lookin At Lucky colt back in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown in two weeks.

“We’re leaning toward the Preakness, since he is the Derby winner and we don’t want to pooh-pooh the Triple Crown,” Mott said at Churchill Downs. “We want to support that. If he’s real good and continues to do well with no issues, not worn out, all those good things, we’ll keep pecking away and going in that direction. If there’s anything we don’t like as we get into the weekend or early next week, we won’t feel – I don’t feel – a lot of pressure to run him, and talking to the ownership group, I don’t think they’ll put on a lot of pressure, if I’m not happy with him for some reason.”

Country House, who crossed the finish line second but was awarded the victory upon the disqualification of Maximum Security from first to 17th for interference, walked the shedrow for a second day Monday morning and will walk again Tuesday before a possible return to the track Wednesday.

“We’ve had another race or two more than some of the horses,” Mott said. “He went three weeks, three weeks and now this is back in two weeks. It would be an ambitious schedule, to say the least. What I’ve noticed from training horses the last 40, 50 years is that sometimes horses look great coming out of a race, and maybe a week, 10 days later, then they’ll show you maybe they’re a little bit tired. I’m not saying that’s going to happen. I don’t know.”

After finishing fourth in the Louisiana Derby (G2), Country House ran back in the Arkansas Derby (G1), finishing third behind Omaha Beach, the Kentucky Derby program favorite before being scratched because of a breathing obstruction. Country House, breaking from Post 18 in the 19-horse field, finished 1 3/4 lengths behind Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby.

Mott was asked if he felt pressure to have Country House in position to put in a top effort, whenever he runs back, because of the history-making circumstances that made his trainee the first horse awarded a Kentucky Derby victory upon disqualification of the first-place finisher for something that happened in the race. Dancer’s Image in 1968 is the only other first-place finisher to be disqualified from victory, that for a medication violation that surfaced in post-race drug testing and a decision that stood after a protracted court battle.

“Well, I’d always want him to put on a good performance,” Mott said. “But I know if we run in the Preakness, running back that soon, you’re taking a bigger risk of him not running well, just because of the timing.”

Mott said he personally would go to his New York base either later Monday or Tuesday and was contemplating driving rather than flying. Country House will stay at Churchill Downs before flying out next week.

Mott acknowledged that winning the Kentucky Derby for the first time was not what he had anticipated, giving the controversy over the stewards’ decision to disqualify Maximum Security.

“I just told [co-owner] Guinness [McFadden], ‘You know, a month from now, a year from now, 20 years from now, we’ll probably appreciate this more than we are able to do right now,’” Mott said.

Allen Hardy, who is overseeing trainer Mark Casse’s Churchill Downs division, continued to be amazed that Preakness candidate War of Will came out of the Derby unscathed.

War of Will was running on the rail behind pace-setting Maximum Security on the far turn before jockey Tyler Gaffalione, with no space on the inside, eased him to the outside of the leader. Soon thereafter, Maximum Security apparently shied from something and drifted out in to the path of War of Will, causing War of Will to come over into Long Range Toddy. Through Maximum Security’s disqualification, War of Will moved up from eighth to seventh place.

Hardy said the only scratch War of Will sustained was “the size of a fingernail.”

War of Will is scheduled to resume training Wednesday or Thursday at Churchill Downs. The plan is to run in the 1 3/16-mile Middle Jewel of the Triple Crowns unless a reason not to surfaces, he said.

“We’re really happy with how he came out of the race,” Hardy said. “That was probably one of the biggest scares I’ve ever seen, and probably for many others. It was surprising. We checked him head to toe as soon as he came back to the barn. We were expecting something to pop up or see something, and he came out of the race great. He’s happy, he’s healthy. He’s in his feed tub. He’s bright-eyed. He still wants to bite you. So we’re very happy.

“We all love him, and we’re all so very highly confident in him,” he added. “It was just an unfortunate day. But you know what? Nobody got hurt and nobody was injured. He’s looking healthy and we’ll progress from here and see what happens.”

Preakness candidate Bodexpress, who also was impeded in the sequence that started when Maximum Security came out, also had a walk day. Trainer Gustavo Delgado is expected back at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. Bodexpress finished 14th and was moved up to 13th in the disqualification.

Mr. Money, a Preakness possibility after winning Churchill Downs’ $400,000 Pat Day Mile (G3) with authority, likewise had the standard walk day two days after a race.

Other Preakness prospects include Code of Honor; Alwaysmining, who extended his winning streak to six races in the Federico Tesio at Laurel Park on April 20; Anothertwistafate, runner-up in the Lexington (G3) and the Sunland Derby (G3) in his last two races; Laughing Fox, winner of the inaugural Oaklawn Park Invitational; Owendale, winner of the Lexington (G3); and Signalman, third in the Blue Grass (G2).

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