03/18/2013 2:00PM

Kentucky Derby Under the Radar: War Academy

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Benoit & Associates
War Academy will step up to a major Kentucky Derby prep race after an impressive win at Santa Anita last Friday.

War Academy is headed to a major Kentucky Derby prep race following an authoritative entry-level, optional-claiming victory at Santa Anita on March 15.

Trained by Bob Baffert, War Academy raced around two turns for the first time and handled the additional distance without any fuss. Breaking from post 4 in the five-horse event at 1 1/16 miles, War Academy tracked the early leader, uncoupled stablemate Manando, through fractions of 24.41 and 48.64 seconds.

Manando attempted to bottom out the field with a third quarter of 23.25 and opened up a sizable advantage, but War Academy gradually closed the gap before powering past Manando inside the eighth pole. Under a confident Mike Smith, War Academy completed the distance in 1:43.42 while clear by 3 1/2 lengths over Manando, a colt who finished third behind Goldencents in the Grade 2 Sham Stakes on Jan. 5.

It was another 3 3/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Brokered, previously second in the $75,000 Turf Paradise Derby. For his effort, War Academy was rewarded with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure.

Bred by Doug Branham, War Academy was foaled in Kentucky on Feb. 12, 2010. He is by Giant’s Causeway, an iron racehorse who was the leading North American sire by earnings in 2009 and 2010. Giant’s Causeway excelled on turf in Europe, winning 9 of 12 races overseas at distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 5/16 miles.

Between June 20 and Sept. 9, 2000, Giant’s Causeway won five consecutive Group 1 races, all by less than a length. In his lone start on dirt, the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, Giant’s Causeway ran a gallant second to Tiznow, failing by a neck despite earning a 116 Beyer.

Not surprisingly, Giant’s Causeway has imparted stamina to his progeny. Among them are North American Grade 1 route winners Giant Oak, Heatseeker, Swift Temper, Creative Cause, First Samurai, Carriage Trail, Eskendereya, and Frost Giant.

War Academy’s dam, the A.P. Indy mare Cabbage Key, was multiple stakes-placed routing on grass. She is a half-sister to stakes-winning turf router Mystic and stakes-placed turf router Magical Affair.

The winning second dam, Mayville’s Magic (by Gone West), is a half-sister to European champion juvenile filly Gay Gallanta and Group 2 turf winner Sportsworld. The third dam, Gallanta (by Nureyev), was Group 1-placed on turf in France and is a half-sister to French champion Gay Mecene.

War Academy was purchased by Michael Tabor, John Magnier, and Derrick Smith for $450,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling auction. Sent to Baffert, War Academy impressed clockers with his morning trials and was sent away as the 11-10 favorite for his career debut, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight over the Betfair Hollywood Park Cushion Track on Nov. 9.

That day, War Academy tracked the leaders from the outside before overtaking his uncoupled stablemate, Denzel, in the stretch. The third-place finisher, Treasury Bill, returned to graduate in his next appearance with an 80 Beyer.

War Academy was being pointed to the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity for his second start but took ill and missed some training time. Baffert gave the colt the rest of the year off, and he returned in the seven-furlong, Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 17. War Academy received an excellent education in the San Vicente as he raced between rivals from stalking range.

Although he flattened out a bit in the final furlong, War Academy may not have been fully cranked for his first race in more than three months.

More distance was expected to aid War Academy, and he didn’t disappoint in the recent breakout performance. Although his pedigree tilts toward grass, War Academy definitively answered the dirt question in resounding and fast fashion at Santa Anita.

War Academy will get the litmus test in his next start and needs to run very well in that major prep race if he is to accrue enough points to reach the Kentucky Derby. Baffert, as usual, seems loaded with quality 3-year-olds, but War Academy might be peaking at just the right time. Still lightly raced, it’s possible that he has even more upside, and his running style – a nice blend of tactical speed and closing ability – is appealing.