While the 144th Preakness Stakes seemed to lack pre-race drama, plenty was provided as soon as the starting gates flew open.
Bodexpress, in the No. 9 post position reared like a rodeo bucking bronco and tossed jockey John Velazquez. While Valezquez was unhurt and walked off the track, Bodexpress ran the entire distance behind the other 12 horses but did not pose serious jeopardy.
Racing to the win was War of Will who got a solid ride from young jockey Tyler Gaffalione. Gaffalione, 24, used his No. 1 post position to his advantage by claiming the inside lane early, staying within striking distance in fourth, taking the lead in the stretch and winning by 1 1/4 lengths.
War of Will, who finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby, completed the 1 3/16 miles of the second jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course in 1:54.34 on a fast track and paid $14.20, $7.40 and $5.40.
Finishing second was longshot Everfast who paid $32.00 and $14.40 with Joel Rosario aboard. Third was Owendale, with Florent Geroux in the irons, paying $6.00.
Leading up to the Preakness, the race lacked the usual drama of being a stop on the way to a potential Triple Crown sweep because neither Country House, the declared Kentucky Derby winner, nor Maximum Security, the second place horse at the Derby, ran at Pimlico. Country House, who was moved up to first place following the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Derby, developed a cough shortly after his controversial win at Churchill Downs May 4.
War of Will was one of the horses caught up in the controversy of the Derby. When Maximum Security -- who crossed the finish line first -- moved to his right on a muddy track, War of Will was one of the horses affected. He finished seventh after being moved up and trainer Mark Casse eventually was vocal in saying that War of Will did not get a fair shot in the Derby because of Maximum Security’s actions.
"If it weren’t for the 'incident', it would have been an interesting race down the lane," Casse said.
While Casse was initially quiet about the rough going at Churchill Downs, he got fired up a few days after the Derby when the Maximum Security camp tried to blame Gaffalione and War of Will for the Kentucky Derby problems.
"I'm just so happy for Mark [Casse] and his team, they do a fabulous job," Gaffalione said. "[Owner Gary] Barber has given me so many opportunities and I’m just so happy for them. I’m happy for Mark to get his first Classic win. Very happy for the horse, he deserved it more than anything else."
Casse said he would probably take War of Will to the Belmont Stakes for the third leg of the Triple Crown June 8.
The favorite heading into the race was Improbable, one of just four Derby starters who came to Baltimore to compete in the Preakness. Improbable, trained by Bob Baffert who has won two Triple Crown titles, finished fourth in the Derby after being moved up. At the Preakness, Improbable finished sixth and never challenged.
Warrior's Charge, who held the lead along the backstretch, finished fourth and Laughing Fox came in fifth.
The remainder of the field, in order, was Win Win Win (7th), Bourbon War (8th), Signalman (9th), Anothtwistafate (10th), Alwaysmining (11th) and Market King (12th). Bodexpress was officially listed as "did not finish," although he did complete the circuit riderless.
War of Will trainer Casse almost won the Preakness in 2017 with Classic Empire but lost by a head to Cloud Computing.
"We almost got it done couple of years ago and this is even, I think, probably more special given everything we've been through," Casse said, referring to the Derby and the aftermath.
"I'm not even calling it redemption," Casse added. "You know what, I didn’t feel like [War of Will] got his fair shot and that’s all I wanted -- a fair shot. He showed what he had today."
Notes: Preakness attendance was 131,256. … Total handle for this year’s Preakness Day was a record $99.85 million. The previous record was $97.17 million in 2017. The handle for this year's Preakness race was $54.46 million. … The last time the Kentucky Derby winner did not run in the Preakness was 1996 when Grindstone retired with bone chips in his knees following his triumph at Churchill Downs. … Going into the race, Baffert was going for his eighth Preakness win, which would have been a record. Baffert’s seven Preakness victories ties him with R.W. Walden. … In the $250,000 Dixie Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race on the turf for 3-year olds and up, Catholic Boy won in 1:41.09 and paid $4.80 to win. The bay 4-year old was ridden by Javier Castellano. … In the $200,000 Chick Lang Stakes, a six-furlong dash on the dirt for 3-year olds, Lexingtonian with Jose Ortiz in the irons paid a handsome $36.00 to win in 1:09.74, besting Gladiator King by a head. … In the $150,000 Gallorette Stakes for fillies and mares 3 years old and up, Mitchell Road was the winner covering 1 1/16 miles on the turf in 1:41.21 and paying $6.20 to win. The 4-year old bay filly was ridden by Joel Rosario and trained by Bill Mott, who was Derby-winner Country House's trainer.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Jockey Club