Irish War Cry left the competition in his wake Saturday in the $350,000 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park, leading wire-to-wire in authoritative fashion. Among the vanquished was Classic Empire, the early Kentucky Derby favorite and unanimous 2-year-old champion who never fired finishing a one-paced third as the 1-2 favorite.
Unbeaten in a pair of sprint starts at Laurel Park, Irish War Cry stretched out to two turns and earned 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth in his first qualifying race. Graham Motion trains the Curlin colt and Joel Rosario had the mount.
“He’s a really nice horse and I was obviously really high on him, but when you’re running against the juvenile champion, you have reservations,” Motion said. “I was torn. I was toying with the idea of running in the Sam Davis (G3) (at Tampa Bay Downs on February 11). I thought it might be a little easier race, because he’s so lightly raced. But the more I looked at it, the way he was working, I just thought we had to take a shot today.”
The chestnut was bred in New Jersey by owner Isabelle de Tomaso.
Irish War Cry shot to the lead at the start, opening a one-length advantage as he reeled off opening splits in :24.14 and :47.92 while travelling well off the rail. Talk Logistics raced in second, narrowly ahead of Classic Empire, who got hot in the post parade and briefly refused to load.
With Rosario sitting chilly, Irish War Cry reached the three-quarters mark in 1:11.87 up by 1 ½ lengths. He was given his cue leaving the far turn and widened the margin while accelerating for home, scoring by 3 ¾ lengths while finishing full of run toward the middle of the track.
“Actually he really kicked on again (in the stretch),” Rosario said. “He was in the lead and very comfortable and turning for home I asked him a little bit and he responded. I was very happy with that.”
Irish War Cry competed 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.52 as 4-1 third choice among seven rivals.
Gunnevera, the 3-1 second favorite, rallied well for second after being steadied on the backstretch and wound up five lengths clear of Classic Empire, who clearly wasn’t on his game in the first outing since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
“We had a good trip,” Leparoux said of Classic Empire. “I got in the clear on the first turn and there was really no excuse. He came back good and we’ll see what happens. He got a little bit warm (warming up) but after that we a good trip and every chance and he just didn’t kick at the end.”
It was another 5 ¼ lengths back to Talk Logistics in fourth. Fact Finding was scratched from the Holy Bull in favor of the Sam Davis at Tampa a week later.
Irish War Cry, who is out of the Polish Numbers mare Irish Sovereign, has room for further improvement.
He missed the break in his career debut at 6-furlongs and was forced to overcome an extremely wide trip while rallying to win going away by 4 ½ lengths on November 11. Next time out in the 7-furlong Marylander on New Year’s Eve, the sophomore wound up on the lead by default and showed his versatility leading wire-to-wire, digging in gamely to withstand a seasoned rival by a nose.
Irish War Cry has now earned $295,460 and Motion is expected to bring his charge back for the March 4 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream.