Irish War Cry was bred in New Jersey by his 88-year-old owner, Isabelle de Tomaso, who long ago drove racecars in Europe. When her rangy chestnut colt reached the eighth pole Saturday at Aqueduct, Rajiv Maragh stepped on the accelerator, and there was plenty in the tank.
The son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin quickly spurted clear from 2-1 favorite Battalion Runner, beating him by 3½ lengths in the Grade II, $750,000 Wood Memorial. Cloud Computing was third after a slow start, 3½ lengths farther back, in New York’s signature Kentucky Derby prep.
There were no anxious moments for Maragh in the final furlong, but Irish War Cry did get feisty in the crowded winner’s circle. “Taking the picture is harder than the race,” Maragh said.
No exaggeration. After Irish War Cry moved up to challenge pacesetting Battalion Runner after 6 furlongs in 1:11.83, it was a two-horse duel. The patient Maragh didn’t ask for his mount’s best until the eighth pole, when they still trailed by a half-length. Within a few strides they were gone.
“He had a perfect trip,” trainer Graham Motion said from Keeneland. “It’s extremely gratifying to get him back on track after that last race,” which Motion had called “appalling.”
Irish War Cry rebounded from a seventh-place finish, 21 lengths behind, in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. Motion and assistant trainer Adrian Rolls were puzzled and hoped it was just too bad to be true.
“There was nothing wrong with him physically, so we really didn’t know why he ran that way,” said Rolls, who deputized for Motion. “There was no explanation, and no way of knowing he would run this well today.”
That’s standard operating procedure in racing, and weirdness ruled Keeneland’s $1-million Blue Grass Stakes. Irap, a 31-1 shot who was 0-for-7, held off Practical Joke by three-quarters of a length, with McCraken, the previously unbeaten division leader, third.
Two-time Derby winner Doug O’Neill sent Irap to Kentucky only because he and owner J. Paul Reddam were running So Conflated in the Santa Anita Derby.
Gormley ($14.40) pulled a mild upset at Santa Anita, rallying under Victor Espinoza to defeat front-running Battle of Midway by half a length, with Royal Mo third and Reach the World fourth. Gormley is trained by 2005 Kentucky Derby winner John Shirreffs, 71, who attended high school in Port Washington. The Wood winner also has a Long Island connection. Assistant trainer Carolann McGee, an Amityville native, worked with Irish War Cry last year at Motion’s base in Fair Hill, Maryland.
Irish War Cry paid $9 after running 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.91 and earned $400,000 for his fourth win in five starts. Out of the money were True Timber, Bonus Points, Glennrichment, Mo Town and Stretch’s Stone.
Motion won the 2011 Wood with Toby’s Corner, who got hurt and missed the Derby, which Motion won anyway with long shot Animal Kingdom, the best horse he’s ever had.
“I think Irish War Cry won pretty impressively,” Motion said. “That was huge. I don’t remember having a situation like this, when I felt so much was on the line. It’s also gratifying to win this race for Mrs. de Tomaso.
“He’s a very classy horse, and it doesn’t seem like the [1¼-mile] distance of the Derby will be an issue.”