After he won the Holy Bull, I asked, almost hypothetically…”which Irish War Cry?”
That day, the answer seemed simple. Irish War Cry (Irish Sovereign, by Polish Numbers) sent to the front, and he won easily. The frontrunning one from the Marylander came back to play, as opposed to the late running Irish War Cry who broke his maiden so impressively at Laurel.
The picture got blurrier in the Fountain of Youth a month later.
Even with the speedy Three Rules joining the fray, stretching out from the Swale Stakes, Irish War Cry felt the need to get right up on the pace. That did not go well for him. Through the far turn, Irish War Cry had nothing left. Gunnevera rolled along. Even Three Rules — the target of Irish War Cry’s pace pressure — held on for third. Irish War Cry faded back to seventh, crossing the wire 21 3/4 tired lengths behind Gunnevera.
Having a reason makes coming to terms with a bad race easier: a horse got shut off behind a wall of horses, strained an ankle, bled. Yet, no clear reason came to light with Irish War Cry…not before the race, not through the last few weeks, not when reporters asked trainer Graham Motion on the NTRA teleconference last week. Irish War Cry won three times in a row, and then had nothing next time out.
Motion did what he could to set Irish War Cry up for a better outing. Irish War Cry got a change of scenery. He got an extra week off as compared to what he would have gotten if he had stayed in Florida.
And, he got a new rider. Joel Rosario had ridden him for his two starts in Florida, but rode at Keeneland today, not Aqueduct. So, Rajiv Maragh got the call. Maragh had come out on top in the Wood before — he rode Wicked Strong three years ago.
But, who knew how he was going to ride Irish War Cry? Four days before the race, Motion even said, “I’d like to think he’s going to settle on Saturday and if he’s not going to settle he’s going to have a hard time competing in these races.” If he could settle in the Wood, he had a shot to make the Derby. If not? Curlin’s streak of having a Derby horse in every crop of his looked to end at four.
Battalion Runner sent. True Timber quickly set to his outside flank. Irish War Cry, breaking from the far outside gate, set up three wide in the next flight as the field took the clubhouse turn. Was he rating? Could it be?
Into the backstretch, however, the nerves set in. He edged closer to the front, catching and passing the pressing longshot True Timber. Maragh was not asking Irish War Cry yet, a positive sign. But, after the Fountain of Youth: would have have anything left when he did ask?
Into the far turn, Irish War Cry edged up further. Still in hand, he looked favoured Battalion Runner in the eye. Battalion Runner had more — he went right with this foe. Coming into the stretch, they were still head-and-head.
Battalion Runner went under a drive first. He responded with what he could, trying to keep his nose in front.
When Maragh finally asked Irish War Cry for his best, going into the final furlong, he responded. He kept giving. Battalion Runner tried — he had heart — but his foe proved too much. Irish War cry edged clear…half a length, a length…he shifted to his next gear…and crossed the wire three and a half lengths clear of that foe.
Which Irish War Cry did we see? Surely, a different horse than his last start. In the Fountain of Youth, he had nothing to give when the real running started. But, after five weeks and a change of scenery? The son of Curlin either had more energy this time, or conserved it better.
But, compared to his starts before his one disappointing race? He showed the best of what he had shown through his previous wins. He showed more speed than he had in his debut, but reminded everyone that he can still come from off the pace. He was tactical. He ran on like a horse who appreciated the notch up in distance.
Irish War Cry found redemption, and a ticket to the Kentucky Derby. Hopefully, Rajiv Maragh goes there with him. He deserves it, after his hands coaxed out the best Irish War Cry we’ve seen yet.