For the first time since 1996, the Kentucky Derby winner did not compete in the second leg of the Triple Crown when Country House was withdrawn from consideration for the 2019 Preakness Stakes just a few days after the ‘Run for the Roses.’ To make matters worse, Maximum Security, who crossed the wire first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, also defected from the race, as well as the second and third-place finishers from the Derby, Code of Honor and Tacitus.
The remaining field for the 144th Preakness was led by Improbable, who was fourth in the Derby, and War of Will, seventh in the Derby and the source of much controversy as he was deemed to have been interfered with by Maximum Security, prompting the latter’s disqualification.
Though the race was lacking in star power, conditions improved significantly over the Derby, which was run in the rain over a sloppy track, and 131,256 packed into Pimlico on a pleasant day in mid-May even without a Triple Crown on the line. Sensing an opportunity for an upset with no heavy favorite to contend with, 13 thoroughbreds lined up in the starting gate for the Preakness, with Improbable sent off as the 5-2 public choice.
The break was an eventful one as Bodexpress reared up in the gate and threw John Velazquez from the saddle. The rest of the field emerged unscatched, and Warrior’s Charge went out to lead the field through solid splits of 22.50 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.16 for the half, and 1:10.56 for three-quarters.
With Tyler Gaffalione back aboard, War of Will found a nearly identical spot to the one he maintained early in the Derby, sitting just behind the leader in fourth, while Improbable sat in midpack on the outside.
As the field turned for home, Warrior’s Charge continued to show the way after a mile 1:35.48. In contrast to the Derby, rather than tipping to the outside for room Gaffalione and War of Will made their bid on the rail, sneaking past Warrior’s Charge in the vicinity of the eighth pole. The move proved to be a winning one, as War of Will surged to the front and withstood late charges from longshot Everfast and Owendale to prevail by 1 ¼ lengths, stopping the clock in 1:54.34 for the 1 3/16 miles.
The victory was redemption for War of Will, whose detractors claimed wasn’t cost a better placing in the Derby, and his win added legitimacy to the controversial stewards’ decision two weeks earlier. The win also provided a pair of firsts, as it was trainer Mark Casse’s first victory in a Triple Crown race as well as Gaffalione’s.
Runner-up honors went to Everfast, who finished a nose in front of Owendale, while it was another 1 ¼ lengths back to Warrior’s Charge in fourth.