Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Kentucky Derby Under the Radar: Java’s War
Lost in the shadow of leading Kentucky Derby contender Verrazano’s popular triumph in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby was the breakout performance from runner-up Java’s War, an early-May foal who could prove a late-bloomer on the Kentucky Derby trail. To be sure, Java’s War faced several obstacles in the Tampa Bay Derby. Not only did he challenge the imposing Verrazano, but he was asked to travel 1 1/16 miles in his first race following a 3 1/2-month layoff and was compromised by a poor start that left him far behind the field entering the first turn.
Ridden for the first time by Willie Martinez, Java’s War improved on the backstretch from 13 lengths behind the early leaders. Java’s War angled three wide entering the final turn, put in a strong bid turning into the stretch, and finished with some gusto, despite trying to lean in during the final furlong. He wasn’t going to catch the favorite, but it was a promising start to his 3-year-old campaign.
“He ran super, no complaints,” said Java War’s trainer, Ken McPeek. “I’m very pleased coming off a long layoff.”
“I was surprised at how small a horse he is,” Martinez said after the Tampa Bay Derby. “But when I called on him down the backside, he was puffing up like a big horse and gave me that spurt. If everything stays in good order, he is going to be a horse to watch for.”
Java War earned 20 Kentucky Derby points. Currently, he is ranked eighth on the Derby entry list with 22 points. McPeek mentioned the Group 2 UAE Derby at Meydan over Tapeta on March 30, or the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland over Polytrack on April 13 as the next goal for Java’s War. Java’s War has run well on synthetic in the past, and Animal Kingdom graduated from a synthetic prep to Derby glory in 2011.
Java’s War is a homebred racing for Charles Fipke. He was foaled in Kentucky on May 4, 2010, and is from the first of only two Northern Hemisphere crops of deceased stallion War Pass, the undefeated 2-year-old champion of 2007. War Pass prevailed at distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and received a career-best 113 Beyer Speed Figure in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Java’s War is a half-brother to Coffee Bar, runner-up in the $153,000 Toronto Cup going nine furlongs on turf at Woodbine. Their dam, Java (by Rainbow Quest), won 2 of 7 starts racing exclusively on turf and won an entry-level optional claimer at 1 1/4 miles at Hollywood Park with a 97 Beyer.
Java is a full sister to multiple Grade 1 turf winner Fiji, who compiled a record of 8 wins from 12 starts racing on turf. Fiji won the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon at 1 1/4 miles with 108 Beyer.
Java also is a half-sister to Capri, winner of the Group 2 Grand Prix de Chantilly at 12 furlongs on turf in France.
Java’s War’s second dam, Island Jamboree (by Explodent), was a multiple stakes winner on dirt and won at distances up to 1 1/16 miles. This is the female family of Grade 1 turf winner Cacoethes and Grade 1 dirt winner Fabulous Notion.
Considering Java’s War’s pedigree, it wasn’t surprising that McPeek started the colt in a turf race for his debut. Competing in a five-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill Downs on June 15, 2012, Java’s War raced three wide from midpack, made a solid bid to place himself in third position, and finished one-paced in some traffic. Java’s War was beaten only two lengths in fifth but galloped out well, and the race produced four next-out winners, including Rip Roarin Ritchie, who returned to take the $61,000 Tyro Stakes at Monmouth with a 77 Beyer.
Twenty-three days later, Java’s War stretched to a mile for a grassy maiden special weight at Ellis Park. After breaking from the outside in the 11-horse field, Java’s War tracked the early leaders while three wide on the first turn. He moved up to press the pace four wide on the backstretch, made the front under a confident ride on the far turn, and repelled the pacesetter’s second surge in upper stretch. Java’s War was best by 1 3/4 lengths, and the third-finisher returned to graduate at Saratoga with a 75 Beyer before placing third in the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland.
Java’s War made his stakes debut in the $150,000 Sunday Silence going one mile at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 8. Racing with Lasix for the first time, Java’s War was bumped at the start and stalked the pace from in between horses before being slickly angled to the inside by jockey Richard Eramia. Java’s War ended up in wonderful position behind the pacesetter, angled three wide at the quarter pole, and was all out in the stretch to succeed by a neck over Brown Almighty, who returned to place second in the Bourbon.
The following month, Java’s War switched to the main track for the first time. Performing in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity over the Keeneland Polytrack on Oct. 6, Java’s War tracked the pace while in between rivals and was in behind foes on the final turn. He split horses with a three-wide bid in upper stretch, but was bumped from in between horses at the furlong marker. Despite the trouble, Java’s War still finished third, two places ahead of next-out Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint winner Hightail. The Breeders’ Futurity runner-up, Dynamic Sky, would go on to win the $52,000 Pasco Stakes before finishing second in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes with a 92 Beyer.
“It looked like we had a chance to win it, but he got bumped pretty good,” McPeek said after the Breeders’ Futurity.
Java’s War was preparing for a Breeders’ Cup race, but a 103-degree fever coupled with an elevated white blood cell count forced him to miss the festivities.
Instead, Java’s War concluded his juvenile campaign in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club on dirt at Churchill Downs. He broke poorly, was held up behind glacial fractions, and finished evenly after swinging wide into the stretch.
Java’s War must overcome his bad gate habits and needs to keep a straighter path in the stretch. Also, he has to prove that this race wasn’t a fluke as his pedigree is geared to turf success.
On the positive side of the ledger, he ran a 96 Beyer for his first start of the year and has plenty of stamina on the bottom of his pedigree. There may be some upside here, and Java’s War looks like an interesting “Under the Radar” horse to follow in the coming weeks.