Irish War Cry stamps Derby ticket with Wood win
From a NYRA release
In the morning, Irish War Cry is calm and collected; in the afternoon, sometimes, he can be wound up tight.
In the week leading up to the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets, trainer Graham Motion knew he needed to get his chestnut colt to settle down. Motion made a slight equipment change for the race, put his faith in new rider Rajiv Maragh, and nervously sat back and watched to see what would happen.
In a performance that stamped his ticket to the Kentucky Derby, Irish War Cry reverted to the sterling form that won him the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes this past winter, stalking the pace in the Wood set by favorite Battalion Runner and taking command in the stretch to draw away and win the 93rd running of Aqueduct Racetrack’s signature race on Saturday.
Off as third choice in a field of eight, Irish War Cry completed the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds in 1:50.91 on Aqueduct’s main track. Owned by breeder Isabelle de Tomaso, Irish War Cry beat Battalion Runner by 3 ½ lengths.
After the race, Motion struggled to find words.
“That was more like it; I’m speechless,” he said, pausing, excitement in his voice. “I’ve never understood why he would not relax, this horse. He’s very classy, he’s very sensible.”
When he won the Holy Bull in February, Irish War Cry, a New Jersey-bred son of Hall of Fame runner Curlin, knocked off champion Classic Empire and Gunnevera in seemingly effortless, front-running fashion.
The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth was his logical next step, but as a commanding even-money favorite in that race, Irish War Cry chased the pace set by Three Rules and inexplicably disintegrated, finishing 21 ¾ lengths behind Gunnevera.
Motion had no answers, although he believed Irish War Cry was too keyed up to run effectively. Motion returned the colt to his base at Fair Hill in Maryland the week leading up to the Wood, put a Figure 8 bridle on him, and put Maragh on his back three mornings in a row.
“I’ve never had a jockey get on a horse in the morning before,” said Motion, who teamed with Maragh when Main Sequence won the 2014 Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga and Grade 1 Joe Hirsch turf Classic at Belmont in that horse’s championship year. “Me and the agent [Tony Micallef] thought it was sensible to do it.”
Whatever he did, it worked. When the gate opened, Irish War Cry broke from his outside post in the field of eight and went three wide as long shot True Timber chased Battalion Runner into the first turn.
On the backside, Irish War Cry settled into a steady stride through a quarter-mile in 23.50 seconds. Maragh allowed his mount to ease up toward Battalion Runner after a half-mile in 47.34, and the race was on.
As the two leaders entered the far turn, Irish War Cry drew abreast of Battalion Runner and the pair dueled into the lane, when the winner moved to the lead with a single left-handed crack of the whip and a vigorous hand ride by Maragh.
“He could have maybe waited even longer,” Motion said of Maragh.
“He was always in a smooth rhythm,” Maragh said. “He relaxed real easily. He did everything I wanted him to do without a lot of effort. He did it all in rhythm. He wasn’t rank at all. He settled beautifully. By getting on him in the mornings, I didn’t think I’d have a hard time getting to settle because he goes so easy and comfortable. We ran good together today.”
Second choice Cloud Computing failed to reach contention and finished third, 3 ½ lengths behind Battalion Runner. He was followed home by True Timber, Bonus Points, Glenrichment, Mo Town and Stretch’s Stone.
Irish War Cry paid $9 for a $2 win bet. In winning the Wood, he earned 100 qualifying points to guarantee himself a starting position in the Kentucky Derby. Battalion Runner picked up 40 Derby qualifying points for his runner-up finish. Cloud Computing finished third, adding 20 points to the 20 he earned for his second-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham.
Motion said the only decision to make now was whether to work Irish War Cry at Fair Hill before the race or ship straight out.