War of Will, who carries the barn moniker “Wow,” produced that “wow moment” for Kentucky Derby followers Saturday, handily winning the $200,000, 1 mile-seventy-yard Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

War of Will, LeComte Stakes
Wow. War of Will ran way ahead of the field to take an easy win — and 10 Kentucky Derby points — at the Fair Grounds on Saturday. (Image: Racing Dudes)

Now, the horse racing world’s Derby attention moves into the South on Friday. That’s where Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, kicks off its expanded winter/spring meeting with the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at one mile.

A four-length winner, War of Will made it look easy in the Big Easy, paying $5.20 — $3.80 — $3.20 as the post-time favorite.

“War of Will has speed and stamina,” trainer Mark Casse told Steve Byk on the “At the Races” radio show Monday. “He’s the total package and one of the most talented horses I’ve ever been around.”

Derby Hyperbole or Real Deal?

It remains to be seen if Casse has an early case of “Kentucky Derby Fever” or if the 3-year-old son of War Front, better known as a turf sire rather than dirt — the Kentucky Derby surface — encounters any detours on the road to Churchill Downs, the first Saturday in May.

The tepid morning line favorite at 9/2, Plus Que Parfait was an indifferent fifth at 4/1 after stumbling at the start, enduring some bumping, being forced wide throughout and lacking any punch at the finish.

War of Will’s winning effort in New Orleans earns 10 points under the Kentucky Derby points system, as he seeks eligibility to enter the Derby starting gate May 4. The Kentucky Derby utilizes a point schedule to decide the top twenty horses entitled to enter the starting gate the first Saturday in May.

Casse says he’ll now aim War of Will at the $200,000 Risen Star Stakes, worth 50-20-10-5 in Kentucky Derby points awarded to the first four finishers, at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 16. The confident Lecomte winner will certainly be heavily favored again in New Orleans after making quick work of a full field in a final time of 1:43:44. This, despite a slight stumble out of the gate, according to Casse, one of the top trainers in both the U.S. and Canada.

Bankit, Gray Attempt Headline Oaklawn’s Opening Day

When the curtain comes up Friday for Oaklawn’s lucrative all-dirt meeting, trainer William “Jinx” Fires’ Gray Attempt, post position eight, and Hall-of-Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen’s Bankit, next door in post position seven, are expected to vie for favoritism. Bankit, 5/2 on the morning line and Gray Attempt, 7/2, are facing seven other rivals.

Bankit is a New York-bred son of Central Banker. He comes off a solid second in the $400,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park in Oklahoma on Dec. 16. A son of Graydar, Gray Attempt was victorious most recently in the $75,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at six furlongs on Dec. 22 at the Fair Grounds.

Ten Kentucky Derby Points are available to the Smarty Jones winner, four for the runner up and two and one for the third and fourth place finisher, respectively.

The Arkansas route towards Kentucky Derby glory includes:

  • $500,000 Southwest Stakes — one-mile and one-sixteenth —  Feb. 18 — Derby points: 10-4-2-1
  • $1 million Rebel Stakes — one-mile and one-sixteenth — March 16 – Derby points: 50-20-10-5
  • $1 million Arkansas Derby —  one-mile and one-eighth — April 13 – Derby points: 100-40-20-10