Racing newcomer Dan Schafer has reached an agreement with the owners of War Story to race the horse with his starting slot in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (gr. I) Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park.
Schafer didn't disclose the financial terms of the agreement with the owners of War Story, a partnership headed by Loooch Racing Stables that includes Glenn Ellis, Dave Weaver, and Imaginary Stables. Schafer, a pizza franchise owner who lives in Northern Kentucky, took his first major plunge into racing by purchasing one of the 12 slots in the Pegasus, which cost $1 million apiece.
Loooch Racing Stables' Ron Paolucci and Schafer were working in earnest on a deal during the past several weeks.
"I had interest in his horse and he had interest in getting in on the race, so it just sort of made sense," Schafer said. "There was interest early on ... and it built through conversations over the past three weeks. ... I feel good about where I'm at and I'm enjoying the ride I'm on right now."
After finishing eighth in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), War Story ran fourth in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) Nov. 26 at Aqueduct Racetrack before earning the first stakes win of his career in the Queens County Dec. 17 at Aqueduct. Trained by Mario Serey Jr., War Story, a 4-year-old son of Northern Afleet —Belle Watling, by Pulpit, has placed in four graded stakes.
Schafer said while California Chrome and Arrogate are the obvious favorites in the race, he's had War Story on his radar for some time and thinks the horse is improving.
"I was looking at all of the horses that fall behind, obviously, (California) Chrome and Arrogate and he's been on my list from the Breeders' Cup on," Schafer said. "I know his performance in the Breeders' Cup wasn't that strong, but I feel like he's run better as of late. He was fourth in the Cigar Mile and who knows what he would have done with another furlong there. Then, in his last race in the Queens County, it was fairly impressive. I know the quality of the field was lower, but nonetheless it was a good run and I feel like the horse may be maturing at the right time."
Paolucci was encouraged by the front-running victory by War Story in the Queens County.
"I think if anyone is going to beat those top two, I think my horse by far has the best shot," Paolucci said. "I think we've finally gotten him to figure out how to get out of the gate. Dan and I discussed (it) prior to his last race. I said, 'Listen, we've got this horse right. He's either going to earn his way into the race or don't call me back on Monday after he races.'
"I told him we're going to be very forwardly placed—I know it doesn't show it on his form—but this horse has a very high cruising speed, so don't be surprised if he's on the lead. If he ever makes the lead, he's never been passed in his life, so don't be shocked if he runs that way.
"He texted me right after the race and said, 'You know your horses.' I said, 'I know this one. That's for sure.'"
Paolucci, who said running in the world's richest race is an honor, said if War Story runs well in the Pegasus, a deal in which Schafer becomes a part owner going forward would be possible.
Schafer said he'd continue to pursue a back-up horse should War Story not be able to run in the Pegasus.