The two leading contenders for Saturday’s Belmont S. (G1), War of Will and Tacitus, are using different training regimens for the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion.” That’s as it should be, given their contrasting circumstances.
War of Will training
War of Will, who wheeled back from his Kentucky Derby (G1) misfortune to capture the Preakness (G1), is the only one to compete in all three jewels of the 2019 Triple Crown. Trainer Mark Casse initially penciled in a breeze for the May 31-June 1 window, but then decided to keep him fresh by just galloping up to the race.
“He’s not going to breeze,” Casse told NYRA publicity. “We kind of feel like he’s in a very happy place and relaxed right now and we want him to be that way going 1 1/2 miles so I don’t really see any reason to. We know his Preakness was good and I didn’t breeze him into that. We are going to do it our way. So he is not going to breeze.”
Casse’s strategy recognizes the needs of this particular colt. Considering his tendency to take a strong hold early – especially if stalking a moderate pace as forecast in the Belmont – War of Will doesn’t need to be sharpened up or have any more speed put into him. He’s also been kept in the tranquil confines of Keeneland before planning to arrive in New York Monday.
Tacitus, on the other hand, hasn’t raced since he was fourth across the wire (promoted to third) in the Derby. Accordingly, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has prescribed a series of drills in company to bring the Juddmonte homebred back up to a peak performance on Belmont Day.
Returning to the worktab on Preakness Day, May 18, Tacitus negotiated a half-mile in :48.57 on the Belmont main track, alongside companion Multiplier who clocked the same. The pair teamed up for a five-furlong move May 26, and although again timed in an identical 1:00.16, Tacitus powered clear on the gallop-out with jockey Jose Ortiz.
“It was very good, very even,” Mott said of the May 26 work. “I liked the rhythm of it – 12, 12, 12, 12. Each furlong was in about 12 seconds and he went out six furlongs in about 1:12, so I thought it was a very steady, solid work.”
Tacitus fired a bullet in his final move in company on June 2. With Ortiz aboard, the son of Tapit and champion Close Hatches used Tide of the Sea as his target, readily passed his workmate, and opened up in 1:00.42. Tacitus posted by far the fastest of 16 Sunday works over five-eighths on the main oval, with the second best being the 1:01.19 recorded by Steve Asmussen’s filly Regal Retort. Tide of the Sea finished in 1:01.50.
“He was moving very good, very level and very even,” Mott said. “He went along in ’12s’ every furlong and went out strong enough. It was very similar to last week. Once he gets in his rhythm he moves very nicely.”
Hero of the Wood Memorial (G2) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on the road to Louisville, Tacitus appears to have filled out nicely since the Run for the Roses.
“I haven’t weighed him,” Mott said, “but visually it looks like he’s in good flesh. I think he’s done well. He’s a good eater.”
Master Fencer (JPN) Belmont updates
The connections of Japanese shipper Master Fencer have been similarly enthusiastic about his well-being since his fast-finishing seventh (elevated to sixth) in the Derby. It became more difficult to get caught up in the vibe after his first work at Belmont Park, in the wake of a pair of easy half-miles at Keeneland (:52.80 on May 15 and :52.00 May 22).
In his May 29 exercise on the Belmont main track, Master Fencer stumbled and lost his action inside the eighth-pole. Although he got back into stride and completed five furlongs in 1:01.48, assistant Yosuke Kono wisely pulled him up rather than pressing ahead on the gallop-out.
“Up until the eighth pole, he was breezing really well and I was so satisfied,” Kono said May 29, according to translator Mitsuoki Numamoto. “All of a sudden, he stumbled, and gradually shifted to the left by the rail. I switched my whip to make him aware and focus to the end of the breeze. We then recovered but it was feeling a little weird so I tried to stop him as soon as possible.”
Numamoto tweeted the same day that Master Fencer checked out fine:
Master Fencer is doing good even after breeze today. It was just unfortunate stumble that happened when he was speeding the most. So just in case, we asked vet to exam & got second opinion. We hope you will not be influenced by inaccurate info & rumors. https://t.co/4f1Y2rboVM
— mitsuoki (@mitsuoki) May 29, 2019
Master Fencer was described as “sound and in good order” in the May 30 NYRA notes.
“He got a little inflammation because of the breezing, which is normal,” Kono said the day after. “The X-rays came back totally fine. The vet is not concerned about anything.”
Master Fencer’s subsequent activity has so far gone according to plan.
“He walked for an hour (May 30), which is normal for us the day after a breeze,” Kono said.
On May 31, Kono was satisfied with his paddock schooling and training track jog.
“On the training track, I confirmed that he was changing leads well and just had a light training session. He was so energized today,” Kono said.
Numamoto, the interpreter, kept fans apprised via Twitter, reiterating that Master Fencer was in fine fettle throughout his routine exercise June 1 and June 2.
— mitsuoki (@mitsuoki) June 1, 2019
#MasterFencer #マスターフェンサー is very fine today as usual. Worked both training & main track and his movement was great.
After he changed the lead at the stretch, his kick got even stronger, rider, Yosuke Kono says. We’re satisfied for his movement. pic.twitter.com/RNul0NHxsL
— mitsuoki (@mitsuoki) June 2, 2019
Master Fencer is slated to have his final breeze, with Julien Leparoux up, on Wednesday.
Wood Memorial runner-up Tax, officially 14th in the Derby, is possible for the Belmont at this writing. Trainer Danny Gargan continues to mull plans for the Arch gelding, whose future is likely to include turf.
Tax, a hard-fought winner of the Withers (G3) back in February, has worked twice since the Derby. On the Belmont training track May 25, he toured a half-mile in :49.87, and on the main June 1, he covered the same ground in company in :49.03. Tax caught workmate Blurred Line, who took :49.44.
June 3 update: According to the NYRA notes, Tax is good to go after getting new glue-on shoes. “He looked like a million dollars out there this morning,” Gargan said Monday.
Spinoff and Intrepid Heart Belmont notes
Spinoff, a close second in the Louisiana Derby (G2) two back, breezed four furlongs in :48.72 on the Belmont training track May 19 and stepped up to five panels in his two subsequent moves over the main oval. The well-bred son of Hard Spun sped in :59.91 on May 25 in tandem with Last Judgment, the duo tying for the second-fastest of 28 on the day.
“I thought he (Spinoff) worked well,” Pletcher said on May 25. “I think the main track was a bit fast, but he galloped out in one (minute), twenty-four (seconds) and change and a mile in one (minute) thirty-seven (seconds) and change so it was the kind of big work we were looking for from him today.”
Spinoff came back to exercise five-eighths in 1:02.16 on June 1 alongside Principled, who posted the same time but didn’t keep up on the gallop-out.
“I thought he went well,” Pletcher said of Spinoff’s final work. “He seemed very relaxed and got into a good comfortable rhythm. He stayed steady all the way around and put in a nice seven-eighths gallop-out. He had a really strong workout last week, so we didn’t have to do quite as much today. He seemed happy and moving well.
“It looked like he never really appreciated the off going in that race (the Derby). Since then he’s seemed to continue to move forward and he’s been training well so we’re expecting a better effort.”
Intrepid Heart was two-for-two before a stumbling start contributed to his third in the May 11 Peter Pan (G3). The Tapit half-brother to 2014 Belmont near-misser Commissioner has experimented with blinkers in his two ensuing works.
Taking to Belmont’s main track May 25, Intrepid Heart breezed a half-mile in :49.16 outside of Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Outshine.
“I thought his (Intrepid Heart’s) workout was very good,” Pletcher said May 25. “It was his first time with blinkers and he seemed to be a little bit more focused, but not headstrong, so we got the response we were looking for. I thought he put in a nice move toward the end of the work and he had a nice gallop-out as well.”
Intrepid Heart again partnered with Outshine in a five-eighths drill June 1, with Intrepid Heart on the inside. Each was timed in 1:00.92, before Intrepid Heart pulled away from his coasting companion on the gallop-out.
“I thought he (Intrepid Heart) had another good work and strong gallop-out,” Pletcher said June 1. “I had him finish a mile in 1:38 and change. I think we got a solid work out of him. He seemed to be happy and moving well. He worked on the outside last time, so I just wanted to work him again with the blinkers on and have him on the inside this time and thought it went smoothly.”
Additional Belmont training notes
Another contender emerging from the Peter Pan, hard-charging second Sir Winston, has developed a closing style in his recent starts for Casse. Thus he complements stablemate War of Will’s handier running style, giving their trainer a one-two punch in the Belmont.
Sir Winston mowed down Catch a Thrill in their five-furlong move on the Belmont main May 25, clocking 1:01.48 beneath Joel Rosario. Catch a Thrill was caught in 1:02.31.
“I was very happy with Sir Winston this morning,” Casse said May 25. “He’s never been much of a work horse, but since he’s started running better recently he’s become a better workhorse. I would call that an A+ work for him this morning – it might be a ‘B’ for most horses, but for him it’s an ‘A+’.”
“We work him the way he likes to run,” assistant trainer Jamie Begg said. “Let him fall away from the pole and then run when you need to run and he gets a lot more out of the gallop-out. He seems to have responded to that in his works.”
The winner of the Display at Woodbine last December, Sir Winston turned in a maintenance half in :50.16, on a “good” main track, May 31. Rosario was back in the saddle.
“He worked an easy half-mile with a good gallop-out,” Begg said May 31. “He did it the way he likes to do it and he did it the right way. Joel was very happy with the breeze.”
Fountain of Youth (G2) runner-up Bourbon War, fourth in the Florida Derby (G1) and eighth in the Preakness, was added to the Belmont field after his May 31 spin. The Mark Hennig trainee, without the blinkers he tried in the Preakness, covered four panels on the good main track in :48.74.
“I was happy with him. I thought he did well, looked sharp and galloped out strong,” Hennig said of the well-bred colt, the third Tapit in the race following Tacitus and Intrepid Heart.
Everfast, the shocking Preakness runner-up, went a half-mile May 29 at Churchill Downs in :50.20.
“He really surprised a lot of us in a good way after running so well in the Preakness,” trainer Dale Romans told Churchill publicity. “We’ll see what lies ahead of him the rest of the three-year-old campaign.”
Romans hopes that Calumet Farm’s “potential star” can continue his progress in the Belmont.
June 3 update: Everfast breezed five furlongs in 1:01.00 at Churchill. Recording fractions of :12.80, :24.40, and :48.60, he galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.60 and seven in 1:28. “Everfast worked great today,” Romans said in the NYRA notes Monday. “It’s a mile and a half race so we crammed two works back to back to make sure he is plenty fit. The way he worked out there this morning he looked great. He went even early and finished fast and didn’t want to pull up, which might be key going into the Belmont. He’s coming into it as good as he could be.”
Long Branch winner Joevia has tuned up at Monmouth Park, breezing four furlongs in :48.80 May 25 and drilling five in 1:00.00 June 1.
“It’s a talented group of colts, but our colt is talented as well,” trainer Greg Sacco told NYRA publicity. “He ran very well in the Long Branch. He trained at Belmont all winter and really went well over the surface, which can be a tricky surface.”
Check out the free Brisnet PPs for the Belmont
File photo of Tacitus (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs