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​War of Will looks to notch second Classic win in Saturday's G1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets

Mark Casse waited more than 30 years to earn his first victory in an American Classic. After Gary Barber's War of Will won the Preakness, the veteran trainer will have a chance to notch his second in three weeks as the War Front colt highlights an accomplished 10-horse field in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday at Belmont Park. 
The culmination of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival featuring 18 total stakes, including 15 graded contests from June 6-8, the 151st running of the "Test of the Champion" is carded as Race 11 on a packed 13-race card that includes eight Grade 1 races and purses totaling more than $9 million. NBCSN will have live coverage from 2:30-4 p.m. Eastern with NBC broadcasting from 4-7 p.m., including the Belmont Stakes with an approximate post time of 6:35 p.m.
Casse, a six-time Sovereign Award winner for Outstanding Trainer in Canada who won his first race in 1979, has two contenders for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, with Tracy Farmer's Sir Winston joining War of Will in the starting gate.
"I learned a long time ago to not think about that kind of stuff," Casse said about his bid to make history. "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. If Sir Winston wins, and people ask me what I'm thinking about, I'll be thinking about 'how can we win the Travers?' Right now, we just focus day-to-day. After this morning, I couldn't be happier."
War of Will earned a personal-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure, rallying in the final furlong for a 1 ¼-length score in the Preakness. Looking to become the 100th all-time Belmont winner bred in Kentucky, War of Will enters with wins in four of his last six starts, including back-to-back victories in the Grade 3 LeComte and Grade 2 Risen Star this winter at Fair Grounds that set him up for a Kentucky Derby start, where he placed seventh.
"I think he's put on 40-50 pounds and that's what we've been looking for," Casse said about his post-Preakness weight gain. "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."
The 2-1 second choice, War of Will, the only horse to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year, retains the services of jockey Tyler Gaffalione, who won his first Triple Crown race with the Preakness victory. The duo will break from post 9.
War of Will can become the first horse since Afleet Alex in 2005 to complete the Preakness-Belmont double, a feat accomplished by just 12 horses, starting with Cloverbrook in 1877 [excluding the 13 Triple Crown winners]. Among that dozen includes all-time greats Man o' War in 1920, Native Dancer in 1953, Nashua in 1955 and Damascus in 1967.
"Over the years, one of the things that's made Belmont so tough is when the Derby and Preakness winners are here and get beat, it's usually by a Belmont-based horse. There's an advantage to it. But, I've had this since the beginning, that great horses can win when things aren't perfect. Is it ideal? No. Can he win? Absolutely," Casse said.
War of Will's stablemate, Sir Winston, enters with momentum following a runner-up finish to Global Campaign in the Grade 3 Peter Pan, the traditional local prep for the Belmont, on May 11 at 1 1/8 miles on Big Sandy.
The Awesome Again colt earned a 100 Beyer for that effort, improving off a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Blue Grass on April 6 at Keeneland. Listed at 12-1 odds, Sir Winston drew post 7 with Joel Rosario set to ride.
"I thought it was extremely encouraging," Casse said of Sir Winston, who schooled in the Belmont paddock with War of Will Tuesday morning. "If the pace were to get pretty hot, it's going to help Sir Winston, because he's truly a mile-and-a-half horse. One thing about it; the pace won't likely be as fast, so he probably won't come as far out of it. But we're not going to take him out of his way. Joel will let him be comfortable, and he'll come running."
Juddmonte Farms' Tacitus will look to give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott a chance to accomplish a rare feat and win two legs of the Triple Crown with different horses. The Mott-trained Country House was placed first in the Kentucky Derby following Maximum Security's disqualification, which also moved Tacitus up from fourth to third to give Mott two-thirds of the trifecta.
Tacitus, who won the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets in April at Aqueduct Racetrack, skipped the Preakness to ready for the grueling Belmont Stakes distance. The well-rested Kentucky homebred will attempt to make Mott the first trainer since fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas to win two Classics with multiple horses. Lukas won the 1996 Kentucky Derby with Grindstone and the Belmont with Editor's Note, which came a year after Lukas trained Derby and Belmont-winner Thunder Gulch and Preakness winner Timber Country.
"Had Tacitus won the Kentucky Derby, I suppose we would have taken a chance at the Preakness, but we didn't feel like we wanted to run him back in two weeks," Mott said.
Instilled as the 9-5 morning-line favorite, Tacitus is one of three Tapit colts in the Belmont field, along with Bourbon War and Intrepid Heart. Tapit has sired three of the last five Belmont winners.
Tacitus, who rallied from 16th at the half-mile mark in the Derby, will look for a smoother trip in the Belmont.
"He got back quite a ways, back in the pack," Mott said of the trip at Churchill Downs. "The way the track was and traffic, he didn't get stopped but he had to keep looking for room. With the big field, he had to keep changing direction and changing course - go inside, go outside - so it wasn't smooth, he had to alter course. That being said, he came running and finished well at the end.
"Generally, going a mile and a half they won't be further back," he added. "If anything, we will be closer. We hope he goes a good mile and a half."
Jose Ortiz will be in the irons from post 10.


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