Anticipation building to play the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile
However, I will take a stand with War of Will. And hope he receives a decent post position when the field is drawn on Nov. 2.
Pre-entries won’t be announced until Wednesday, so the composition of the field remains in flux, and Breeders’ Cup lists 20 possible contenders. Only 12 horses will be allowed to start over the two-turn distance at Keeneland.
With a victory in July's Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) and a third most recently in the Sept. 19 Woodbine Mile (G1), War of Will has the points to qualify. Those races were on turf, though, and he will be making his first dirt attempt since a ninth in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita.
War of Will should have never been in last year’s Classic. The Dirt Mile was the best option following three straight losses, but connections probably felt the Preakness (G1) winner belonged in the Classic. He finished his sophomore campaign in similar fashion to Gun Runner, who won three graded stakes and finished third in the Kentucky Derby at age 3.
After dropping three straight races before the 2016 Breeders’ Cup, Gun Runner finished second to Tamarkuz in the Dirt Mile. It was the best option at the time, and the well-built chestnut improved at age 4, rolling wire-to-wire in the 2017 Classic to secure Horse of the Year honors.
War of Will is going to be better on dirt as a 4-year-old, as well.
The 1 1/4-mile Classic trip is not his optimal distance, and Mark Casse enhanced the colt’s stud value by winning a Grade 1 turf race this year. He's bred for the sod and has 2-year-old turf form.
But while his versatility is an attribute for breeders, War of Will is not the same horse on turf as dirt. His Maker’s Mark Mile can be deemed as a negative key race, with most of the contestants losing their next start. And he lacked the necessary finishing kick as the Woodbine Mile favorite, weakening late as the 7-year-old mare Starship Jubilee rolled past him.
He's shown a superior turn of foot on dirt, and I expect War of Will to relish the surface switch at Keeneland.
War of Will appears to be training forwardly on the Churchill Downs main track since August:
The Dirt Mile won’t lack depth. Art Collector, Complexity, Knicks Go, Mr Freeze, Mr. Money, and Sharp Samurai are all win candidates if they make the field, but there are no standouts.
War of Will possesses the tactical speed to make his trip, and I will be betting on a career-best performance in the Dirt Mile.