September 19, 2021

Irish War Cry to target Gulfstream’s Kentucky Derby preps, Classic Empire likely to run elsewhere

Irish War Cry captured the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, February 4, 2017 (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

Edited Press Release

Trainer Graham Motion reported Sunday morning that undefeated Irish War Cry, who posted a mild upset as a 3 3/4-length winner of Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, will remain in Florida at the Palm Meadows Training Center and target Gulfstream’s signature Triple Crown preps.

Whether Isabelle de Tomaso’s homebred colt runs in both the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) on March 4 and $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on April 1 has yet to be determined, but Motion said at the moment he is inclined toward starting the lightly raced son of Curlin in both spots.

For his win in the Holy Bull, Irish War Cry earned 10 points toward a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 6. He also garnered a 102 BRIS Speed rating, topping the 100 figure he was awarded for taking the Marylander Stakes on New Year’s Eve at Laurel Park.

“We have to decide if we run in both races down here and how we go about it,” Motion said before boarding a plane for Maryland to check in on his division of horses at the Fair Hill Training Center. “I think there is a good shot that he will do both; I guess we’ll see how things go.

“I just feel like I’ve thrown a lot at this horse in a short period of time, and that is the only reason that I have some reservations about both races. But we’ll keep him in Florida because it makes sense. We’re not going to get too clever about it and I see no reason to go anywhere else.”

The 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull was just the third career start for the New Jersey-bred, who entered the race undefeated. He began his career at Laurel on November 11, winning a maiden special weight by 4 1/2 lengths. His victory in the Marylander came by a hard-fought nose.

In winning the Holy Bull, Irish War Cry defeated six rivals, including last year’s champion two-year-old male and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner, Classic Empire, the 1-2 favorite who finished third, five lengths behind the runner-up, Gunnevera.

“You always hope you can win, but you don’t necessarily expect to win like that, especially when you’re running against the two-year-old champion,” Motion admitted.

Trainer Mark Casse was at a loss to explain Classic Empire’s defeat in the Holy Bull as the odds-on choice, but said Sunday morning the Pioneerof the Nile colt was fretful during the Saturday van ride from Palm Meadows Training Center in Palm Beach to Gulfstream Park.

“He’s fine today,” Casse said of Classic Empire, who was washy in the post parade and reluctant to enter the starting gate. “Yesterday morning he was as happy and good as I’ve ever seen him. He just did not take the trip down there well.

“He’s run in the Bashford Manor with the crowd and the lights, and we flew him to the Breeders’ Cup, and those things didn’t bother him, but yesterday was the first time he ever had to ship and run (on the same day). He’s shipped all the time and never fretted before, but yesterday he really fretted. I don’t know what was going on with him. Yesterday was also the first time I ever saw him balk about going into the gate.

“This horse wasn’t happy yesterday and we really don’t have a good answer. He ate last night. He’s happy as he can be now, standing in his stall.”

While Casse has not mapped out any plans for the next start for John C. Oxley’s Classic Empire, he said it’s unlikely the Kentucky-bred bay will run back at Gulfstream Park.

“I would say more than likely you won’t see him back at Gulfstream again,” he stated. “We’re already thinking about where we want to go, but wherever it is it will be somewhere he will train a little bit there before he runs. Yesterday came as a complete surprise to us, but the battle is far from over.”

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