July 1, 2022

Wood Memorial: Irish War Cry drills toward rebound, Battalion Runner confirmed

Irish War Cry burst onto the Kentucky Derby scene in the Holy Bull (Coglianese Photography)

Holy Bull (G2) hero Irish War Cry, who shipped back from Florida to trainer Graham Motion’s Fair Hill base early last week, signaled his well-being with a six-furlong drill in 1:13.40 on Sunday.

The winner of his first three starts, Irish War Cry surprisingly folded in the Fountain of Youth (G2) last time out, checking in a too-bad-to-be-true seventh behind Gunnevera at Gulfstream Park.

“To me I think it seemed like a perfect storm of a bounce off the Holy Bull and kind of a deep, cuppy track that he struggled with,” Motion told Laurel Park publicity. “That’s the best case that I can give.”

Motion decided to freshen up the Curlin colt rather than press on to Saturday’s Florida Derby (G1). Irish War Cry returned to the worktab March 25, three weeks after his Fountain of Youth debacle, and breezed five furlongs in 1:01.10 at Palm Meadows.

After following up with a stiffer move on Sunday at Fair Hill, the New Jersey-bred is on course to regroup in this Saturday’s Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.

“That’s the plan,” Motion confirmed.

“I wanted to get him home and give him the extra week. I just didn’t feel like I could run back in the Florida Derby off that performance.

“For me it was getting him home and getting him relaxed. The biggest factor was probably the extra week, to be honest. It’s also running in a Grade 2 as opposed to a Grade 1.

“That was a solid group (in the Florida Derby) and the winner (Always Dreaming) looked very impressive, I thought.”

Motion’s been pleased with Irish War Cry since his return to Maryland.

“I wanted him to have a good work,” the horseman said. “We had a lot of rain the last couple of days so that’s why I put it off until today. The (dirt) track was good this morning.

“He actually shipped back on Monday morning so he got here Tuesday and he galloped since then. He seems to have had a very good week.”

Kentucky Derby hopeful Battalion Runner needs to earn his points in the Wood (Photo by Lauren King/Coglianese Photography)

Another who swerved the Florida Derby for the Wood is Battalion Runner, leaving his stablemate from the Todd Pletcher barn, Always Dreaming, to dominate at Gulfstream.

“Part of the strategy was we were trying to keep him and Always Dreaming separated because of the common ownership,” Pletcher told NYRA Publicity, referring to St Elias Stable being a partner in both colts.

“So it kind of came down to finalizing which race we were ultimately going to end up in. Based on the breeze this morning, we felt like the Wood made the most sense.

“We feel like he’s consistently run well fresh and we’ve been training all along with either running in the Florida Derby or the following weekend in mind so hopefully we have him fit enough and ready enough to run his best.”

A commanding maiden winner over seven furlongs at Gulfstream who was more workmanlike in a two-turn allowance, Battalion Runner got the green light after his Sunday half-mile move in :49.30 at Palm Beach Downs. Hall of Famer John Velazquez, the regular rider of the Unbridled’s Song colt, was in the saddle for the work.

“It was a good work for him and he had a nice gallop-out,” Pletcher told Gulfstream publicity. “It’s six days out from the Wood so we didn’t want to overdo it. He’s had a good, steady series of solid works so this is more of a maintenance type work before he ships north. He looked good and was moving well. It was a nice, relaxed work by himself and he seemed to come out of it well.”

Pletcher also plans to give Bonus Points, second in the Jerome (G3) and fourth in the Withers (G3), his chance in the Wood.

“He’s a consistent horse, he tries hard,” the trainer said of Bonus Points, who negotiated four panels Sunday on the Belmont training track in :48.33. “We’re hoping that maybe with a more legitimate pace, he’ll get a little better run at it. We need him to step up and improve a bit, but we feel like he’s a horse that’ll handle the distance and, with a little bit of pace setup, might be able to get a piece of it.”

Chad Brown’s well-regarded Cloud Computing is all set for the Wood following his four-furlong breeze in :49.09 over Belmont’s training track Sunday. He exits a commendable second in the Gotham (G3), his two-turn bow off a maiden score, despite chasing the pace duel that proved costly to 2-5 favorite El Areeb. While passed by the closing J Boys Echo, Cloud Computing was 7 1/2 lengths clear of the tiring third El Areeb.

With these Derby hopefuls needing sufficient points to ensure a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs, the Wood will help determine their status as a 170-point race.