Irish War Cry hit a high in early February with a victory over Gunnevera and champion Classic Empire in the Holy Bull (G2), but trainer Graham Motion was anxious to avoid a return to Gulfstream after the New Jersey-bred son of Curlin folded like a tent as the favorite in last month’s Fountain of Youth (G2).
On Saturday, Irish War Cry got his Kentucky Derby (G1) aspirations back on the right track with an emphatic victory over Battalion Runner in the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.
Stalking close behind that favorite through fractions of :23.50 and :47.34, Irish War Cry got on virtually even terms with that rival around the far turn after six furlongs in 1:11.83. Biding his time to move past in upper stretch, the chestnut pulled away late under Rajiv Maragh to score by 3 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:50.91 for nine furlongs on a fast track.
Bred and owned by Isabelle de Tomaso, Irish War Cry paid $9. Battalion Runner easily held second, 3 1/2 lengths clear of Cloud Computing. True Timber was fourth and it was a long gap back to Bonus Points, Glennrichment, Mo Town, and Stretch’s Stone.
The victory was worth 100 qualifying points toward Kentucky Derby eligibility, which safely puts Irish War Cry in the starting gate in a seemingly wide-open renewal of the Run for the Roses on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
“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.”
This was a particularly poignant victory for Maragh, who only returned to riding last November after spending 16 months on the sidelines. That July 2015 spill, in which Maragh suffered several broken vertebrae, a broken rib, and a punctured lung, occurred two months after the rider returned to action after suffering a broken arm in the fall of 2014.
“When I was down and out, these are the days I dreamed about,” Maragh said. “These are the days that made me feel I wanted to ride. You never know if you’ll get them again after being off so long. I can’t be more thankful for everyone who has been there for my recovery and supporting me now that I’m back. I’ve never been so emotional after a race in my life as I was after this.”
This was the third stakes win for Irish War Cry, who registered his first added-money win in the $99,000 Marylander at Laurel on December 31 by a nose going seven furlongs at Laurel. A 4 1/2-length debut winner over the same track November 11, his only loss to date was his seventh in the Fountain of Youth. He’s now earned $699,460.
“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.”
Out of Irish Sovereign, by Polish Numbers, Irish War Cry is a half-brother to the stakes-placed Irish Politics and the Grade 3-placed Irish Strait.