Irish War Cry looks to wake up Derby chances

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If losing his status as a major player on the Kentucky Derby trail bothers Irish War Cry, he’s not showing it. Tuesday morning about 9:30, he was asleep standing up with his head pointed southwest – at the back wall – and in a bit of sunshine trying to work its way into the stall. A few hours later, he was sprawled out – facing east this time – on his right side.

The extra sleep might do the 3-year-old some good as he tries to get back into the Derby conversation in Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Irish War Cry won the first three starts of his career – a maiden race at Laurel Park in November, the Marylander Stakes at Laurel on New Year’s Eve and then the Lambholm South Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in February. That Grade 2 win ignited attention and put the New Jersey-bred atop several 3-year-old lists.

But Derbies are not won in February.

Last month, four weeks after the Holy Bull, Isabelle de Tomaso’s homebred ran the XpressBet Fountain of Youth like he was asleep (sorry) and finished seventh behind emerging Derby players Gunnevera, Practical Joke, Three Rules and others. The defeat, by 21 3/4 lengths, perplexed trainer Graham Motion and plenty of other witnesses.

Irish War Cry pressed Three Rules early in the 1 1/16-mile race, came under pressure on the far turn and faded late. Maybe he bounced off the Holy Bull effort. Perhaps he hated the drying-out track. Maybe he didn’t take the needed step forward. All of those things happen to 3-year-olds early in the season. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Motion is tired of trying to explain the Fountain of Youth, but changed plans slightly in bypassing the Florida Derby April 1 and shipping home to Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. The trainer, who won the Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom, called the early trip north a practical decision.

“I wanted to give him the five weeks (between races),” he said. “I didn’t feel good about running him back in four weeks off such a disappointing race. And I really did want to get him back here. I just wanted to get him home, get him out of Palm Meadows. It’s a little bit intense there, where it’s a bit more relaxed here.”

Irish War Cry worked Sunday on Fair Hill’s dirt track, covering 6 furlongs in 1:13.40 alongside 5-year-old stablemate Spring Quality. Motion doesn’t necessarily think working 3-year-olds and 5-year-olds together is the best way to get a young horse ready in early spring, but wanted Irish War Cry to work. Spring Quality has won two of three lifetime starts and is aiming for a race at Keeneland next week.

“Spring Quality is very lightly raced, but very talented,” Motion said. “I don’t as a rule work my 3-year-olds with older horses but I wanted to make sure (Irish War Cry) had a good work. He needed to have a proper work and he worked with a pretty nice horse who gave him all he wanted.”

Handicapper’s Note: You may want to put Spring Quality on your Keeneland horses-to-watch list.

The Wood, a Grade 2 worth $750,000, offers 100 Derby points to the winner and 40 to the runner-up. A win gets Irish War Cry (who has 10 points) in the field and back in the discussion as a legitimate Derby contender. Second probably does too. Anything else, its debatable. And Motion isn’t anxious to take a horse to Kentucky that doesn’t fit, anyway. If the 20 Derby slots were decided in some other fashion, Irish War Cry wouldn’t enter off another sub-par race. The Holy Bull effort wasn’t good enough and the chestnut colt will have to step forward in the Wood – points or no points.

“To me it was a perfect storm, bouncing and not handling the track which was a completely different track than what it was on Saturday (Florida Derby Day),” Motion said. “It was a very dried-out, cuppy track and I think he honestly struggled on it. Does that explain him getting beat 20-some lengths? I don’t know. Clearly for whatever reason he didn’t run his race. I just think he ran out of gas.”

IrishWarCry2 MKMotion sees nothing amiss with his horse. He’s eating, sleeping (obviously), feeling good. Off a bad race, with no discernible issues, Motion would likely follow a similar schedule. Back off a little, train, give the horse a little more time between races and – all being well – run back to try to restart the campaign.

“He acts well to me in the morning,” Motion said. “I can’t explain why he ran so poorly last time. All I can say is, from seeing him in the morning he seems very well with himself. He’s moving well. He’s very happy. He’s full of himself. From what I’ve seen in the morning, he’s doing well and this is the logical chance to take one more shot.”

Irish War Cry shipped to Aqueduct after training Wednesday morning as he must arrive early to meet New York’s security protocol. Motion would have preferred to ship the day of the race as he normally does to run in New York, but understands the rules even if the race was downgraded to a Grade 2 this year.

Rajiv Maragh takes the mount on Irish War Cry as Joel Rosario opted to ride at Keeneland Saturday. There, he will be aboard Practical Joke in another Derby prep, the Blue Grass. Motion hopes for a definitive race Saturday. Irish War Cry led throughout in the Holy Bull and pressed in the Fountain of Youth.

“I want him to relax if he’s going to go on and do more,” said Motion. “The Holy Bull, there was no speed in that race and clearly he was going to end up on the lead by default. In the Fountain of Youth, I would have liked to have seen him sit behind a horse a little bit but it didn’t work out. That doesn’t explain why it was such a bad race, so we’ll see.”

The Wood attracted a field of eight when post positions were drawn Wednesday. The field (with owner, trainer, jockey morning-line odds).

1. Glenrichment (Zayat Stable, Rudy Rodriguez, Kendrick Carmouche, 15-1).
2. Mo Town (Mrs. John Magnier, Tony Dutrow, Javier Castellano, 6-1).
3. Battalion Runner (St. Elias Stable, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 2-1).
4. Bonus Points (Three Diamonds Farm, Todd Pletcher, Luis Saez, 20-1).
5. True Timber (Calumet Farm, Kiaran McLaughlin, Paco Lopez, 12-1).
6. Stretch’s Stone (Roddy Valente, Bruce Levine, Manny Franco, 15-1).
7. Cloud Computing (Klaravich Stable and William Larence, Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz Jr., 5-2).
8. Irish War Cry (Isabelle de Tomaso, Graham Motion, Rajiv Maragh, 7-2).

Remsen winner Mo Town spent the winter in Florida but his only 2017 start came in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in February. The son of Uncle Mo finished fifth as the favorite that day, but won two of three as a 2-year-old.

Battalion Runner graduated the maiden ranks at Gulfstream Park on New Year’s Eve, then added an allowance victory Feb. 3. Idle since, the son of Unbridled’s Song makes his stakes debut but may be the favorite. Maryland-bred Bonus Points spent the winter in New York after winning once in five starts as a juvenile. The son of Majestic Warrior finished behind El Areeb, who is out with a knee injury, in two stakes preps at Aqueduct this winter. Cloud Computing has run just twice, a maiden win at Aqueduct in February and a second to J Boys Echo in the Gotham also at Aqueduct.

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Fox Sports 2 will broadcast the first edition of Aqueduct Live on Wood Memorial Day from 3-5:30 p.m., covering the Wood Memorial undercard, including the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap. Also on tap for Wood Memorial Day are the spring meet’s official Kentucky Oaks qualifier, the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle for sophomore fillies at 1 1/8 miles, as well as a pair of Grade 3 stakes with the $250,000 Bay Shore for 3-year-old sprinters at 7 furlongs, and the $150,000 Excelsior for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/4 miles.

NBC Sports Network will provide live coverage of the Wood Memorial in a two-hour broadcast from 5:30-7:30, along with the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park. Post time for the Wood Memorial is scheduled for 5:50.