Hey, Graham Motion, narrate a workout. “Thirteen. That’s perfect. Right on the money . . . Twelve and four. Very nice. That’s perfect . . . Twelve flat. Very good. You’re doing great . . . Twelve flat. Beautiful . . . Twelve and one. Beautiful . . . Let him finish up if you think he’s going easily, Raj.”
And that’s that.
Sunday morning, with 42 people standing along the rail and another 30 or so in the clockers’ stand, Irish War Cry turned in his final workout for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby – 6 furlongs in 1:13.20 in company with stablemate Providence Road. Isabelle de Tomaso’s Curlin colt galloped out 7 furlongs in 1:27, without feeling much pressure. Jockey Rajiv Maragh never moved his hands on the New Jersey-bred, who started 2 lengths behind his workmate and finished a half-length in front. All being well, Irish War Cry ships to Churchill Downs Monday.
Horses breeze all the time at Fair Hill. Derby horses, not so much. The crowd Sunday morning included friends, family, some members of the press, at least four dogs, a racing fan who goes by Elkton John and a slew of Motion’s fellow horsemen. Irish War Cry stepped on the track at about 9, just after the harrowing break. He, Providence Road and lead pony Under Control stood in near the gap for a bit, then jogged back to the wire. Irish War Cry pricked his ears to say hello to at least some of the crowd on the rail – they’re usually not there – stood in again and then he and Providence Road broked into a gallop.
On the inside under Jorge Salazar, Irish War Cry’s regular exercise rider, Providence Road led the way. The 4-year-old full-brother to 2011 Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner was 2 lengths clear at the three-quarter pole and stayed ahead until the end of the turn when Irish War Cry drafted alongside and pulled a neck clear midway in the stretch. Motion and assistant trainer Adrian Rolls compared stopwatches and opinions at the rail and were pleased.
“It couldn’t go any better,” Motion said. The calm hides some nerves, the same ones felt by the trainer of any Derby horse ever. Irish War Cry got through his 2-year-old season with two wins at Laurel Park, went to Florida and won the Holy Bull to ignite Derby talk, lost the Fountain of Youth to douse the flame, then won the Wood Memorial April 8 to jump back toward the top of the list. He’s a top-10 contender for sure, top-five for many. Sunday’s work was the finishing touch, for now.
“That’s more stressful than the race,” Motion said of the workout with a laugh. “Rajiv said he did everything easily. He seems much more settled to me now than he was even a month ago. Part of that is being here, I think. I’m happy about that.”
Maragh drove from New York Saturday to be aboard for the breeze. The jockey rode Irish War Cry a couple mornings before the Wood Memorial, but appreciated another chance to get more familiar.
“From getting on him in New York and riding him in the race I learned a lot about him and I’m very familiar with what he’s about,” Maragh said. “(Sunday’s work) was smooth. Everything just flowed very nicely. One improvement I saw is he just seems so composed right now, and confident in himself. I think he’s really maturing. When I first got on him at Aqueduct, it was new surroundings and he was kind of checking everything out around him. Today he was just very professional and straightforward.”
With its 20-horse field and pressured atmosphere, the Derby will be a new challenge for Irish War Cry – and the other 3-year-olds in the $2 million race. Maragh expects more polish from his horse.
“I have a good understanding of him. We’re comfortable together. I feel very comfortable on the horse. He does everything that I want of him and today’s workout kind of showed me the same thing again,” said the jockey. “He’s very handy for whatever I want to do. He’s actually a jockey’s dream to ride, this kind of horse because my options are wide open for whatever I want to do in the race. You can do whatever you want to do with him. He’s got a great mindset on him.”