BALTIMORE -- In the parallel universe of Bizarro World, 'The Incident,' as trainer Mark Casse calls it, never happened.
Everyone got a clean trip in the Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security didn't veer into the paths of horses behind him, and didn't suffer the first Derby first-place disqualification for interference since time eternal. And we got to see a great duel between him and War of Will play out down the stretch.
In Bizarro World, Improbable didn't rear in the Preakness starting gate on Saturday, followed a moment later by Bodexpress not rearing out of the gate as the door opened, and jockey John Velazquez didn't get flipped forward to the ground before his horse was more than a stride into the race.
And Bodexpress didn't take a grand solo tour of Baltimore County, galloping through the Inner Harbor, stopping at The Bullpen across from Camden Yards for a cold Natty Boh and then swinging through Fells Point for some crabcakes before being corralled by an outrider.
But all of that did happen, because this is horse racing. OK, except for the Bodexpress part.
If anybody was expecting a clean Preakness storyline after the controversial Derby DQ, they were badly mistaken.
This much is true, though: while trying to deflect questions about redemption and revenge, Casse was nevertheless vindicated in his belief that he has one of the best 3-year-olds in the country, a horse he dubbed "WOW" last summer at Saratoga Race Course.
That's from the colt's initials, yes, but mostly for the wow factor he brought to the Casse barn because of the class and talent War of Will showed as a 2-year-old training at the Spa and confirmed in full bloom with a blanket of yellow Black-Eyed Susans on his back at Pimlico Race Course Saturday.
It was also his athleticism, with Tyler Gaffalione in the saddle, that may have saved the sport from what would have been a tragic catastrophe in the Derby, when he nearly clipped heels with Maximum Security with many horses and riders breathing down their necks.
Only four Derby horses ran back in the Preakness, Maximum Security not among them, and despite the various shenanigans at Pimlico, War of Will got a chance to prove himself and took full advantage of it.
"There was so much written, so much said, that our horse wasn't going to win, he wasn't going to do this, and I felt bad for him," Casse said. "I felt bad for [owner] Gary Barber. I just wanted a fair shot. We were coming back in two weeks, and there were a lot of fresh shooters. So I was extremely proud. A lot of people said, 'Oh, is this revenge?' No. I just wanted to win."
Barber, a prominent movie producer at MGM and co-founder of Spyglass Entertainment whose movie credits include "Seabiscuit," wasn't at Pimlico because he was attending the Cannes Film Festival.
One of Casse's attributes Barber identifies with is his aggressive placement of his horses, like sending Wonder Gadot to the Travers at Saratoga last year to see if she could become the first filly to win that race in over a century (she was last).
After The Incident, it would've been reasonable for Casse and Barber to sit this one out, but it was full steam ahead, and although there won't be a Triple Crown on the line, Casse suggested that they would take a hard look at the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.
"We're not afraid to run 'em," Casse said. "He had a great [Derby] trip until what I call 'The Incident.' I would like to think that, if it wasn't for The Incident, it would've been an interesting race down the lane.
"Honestly, right after the Derby, it's hard to believe, but I felt joy and relief that he was OK and that we didn't have the worst disaster in horse racing history. I was good the next day. I was fine. I was out at the barn smiling, happy, talking to everybody."
Until he wasn't.
Criticism toward Gaffalione and War of Will started rumbling forth in the week after the Derby, and Gary West, who co-owns Maximum Security with his wife Mary, is still considering legal action to get the Derby disqualification, which dropped his horse to 17th place, reversed.
The West story took a head-scratching turn on Friday, when he issued a $20 million match challenge to Barber and the owners of Country House, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. He said he'll pay any of them $5 million if their horse beats his in a race, regardless of finish position. If his horse finishes ahead of any of theirs, they have to pay him $5 million. Good luck with all that.
"It didn't start until about Tuesday [after the Derby], when there was a remark that somebody made that it was Tyler's fault," Casse said. "That got me pretty fired up. And then I read where they were blaming War of Will.
"I then became not so ... not quite as nice, and I was irritated. I said other words that I later regretted because they put them in headlines. But 'irritate' is a nice word."
Casse was able to ruefully chuckle about that Saturday, beaming in full glow over his colt's Preakness win.
Asked if we can expect more weirdness in the Belmont should War of Will make it to that race, the trainer said, "I think we've covered bizarre already. But, nah, this is the life we live each and every day. We always have curveballs thrown at us on a constant basis.