Irish War Cry’s roller-coaster ride to the Kentucky Derby hit a high mark in the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) as he rolled to a 3 1/2-length decision at Aqueduct. After a puzzling clunker in the March 4 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, the New Jersey-bred son of Curlin displayed the talent that made him a hot Kentucky Derby commodity earlier in the season.
Rajiv Maragh picked up the mount for Graham Motion and Irish War Cry settled just off the front-running Battalion Runner during the early stages. After edging closer on the far turn, the chestnut colt drew even in upper stretch and proceeded to draw off through the final furlong of the 1 1/8-mile race.
Irish War Cry equaled a career-best 102 BRIS Speed rating, receiving the same number for a 3 ¾-length decision in the February 4 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream. He sandwiched those performances with a 76 figure in the Fountain of Youth, beaten 21 ¾ lengths in seventh.
Motion switched bridles for the Wood Memorial but still can’t explain what happened two starts back.
“I think the equipment change (to a figure 8 bridle) probably helped,” Motion said. “It gives you a little more control. But he had the perfect trip today. I don’t know what happened last time. It’s just a complete puzzle to me.”
The rebound effort brought an enormous sense of relief to Motion, who will seek his second Kentucky Derby triumph after capturing the 2011 edition with Animal Kingdom.
“It’s extremely gratifying to get this horse back on track,” Motion said. “That was huge. I don’t remember having a situation like this, when I felt so much was on the line.”
Irish War is now 4-for-5 overall, winning his first two starts at Laurel Park before shipping to Florida for the Holy Bull. The Isabelle De Tomaso homebred proved to be the most impressive winner from a slate of major prep races on April 8 (Blue Grass and Santa Anita Derby also offered) and established himself as one of the top betting choices in the Kentucky Derby.
Irish War Cry has a chance to be the Kentucky Derby favorite depending on what happens in the April 15 Arkansas Derby (G1).