LAUREL, MD – Calling it “perfect,” trainer Graham Motion gave multiple Grade 2 winner Irish War Cry his only work before the May 6 Kentucky Derby on Sunday at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, MD.
Isabelle de Tomaso’s homebred was timed in 1:13.20 for six furlongs over the main track under jockey Rajiv Maragh, who drove down from New York for the breeze. Maragh and Irish War Cry teamed up for the first time to win the Grade 2 Wood Memorial on April 8 at Aqueduct.
The 1 1/8-mile Wood was the third stakes victory and second in graded company from five career starts for Irish War Cry, winner of the Grade 2 Holy Bull on February 4 at Gulfstream Park in his 3-year-old debut. That effort followed back-to-back juvenile victories at Laurel Park, including the Marylander Stakes on December 31.
“It was the only time I worked him since the Wood, by design,” Motion said. “That’s what I do. We don’t usually breeze until three weeks after a race. I told Rajiv to try and go off in 13 [seconds], which is right what they did on the money, and he finished up in 13 and change. I don’t think it could have gone any better. It was perfect.”
The Wood provided his connections some redemption after Irish War Cry finished seventh as the favorite in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4 at Gulfstream, his lone defeat. He is scheduled to van Monday morning from Fair Hill to Louisville, KY, where he is one of the leading contenders for the Derby.
“The two biggest attributes that he has are his stride, which is tremendous, and his demeanor,” Motion said. “He kind of had this reputation of being a headstrong horse, [but] he’s not a headstrong horse, as you just saw. He’s very relaxed. He’s done well being here, I think, for three weeks since the Wood. Now, we get to Churchill and see what happens.”
Motion praised the rural setting at Fair Hill as having done wonders for Irish War Cry since leaving South Florida and following his win in New York. The trainer won the 2011 Derby with Animal Kingdom, who had a similarly sharp final drill leading up to the race.
“Interestingly, it was almost an identical work, time-wise, although obviously, we did it with Animal Kingdom at Churchill,” Motion said. “He needed to breeze at Churchill, Animal Kingdom. He’d never even run on the dirt. He probably never breezed on the dirt, so [we] felt it was really important that he had that one work at Churchill. With this horse, I thought it was more important that he stayed here in this environment.”
“Everybody’s excited,” he added. “You’re on tenterhooks a little bit because you just hope that everything goes all right. That’s all you can hope for.”