Trainer Graham Motion sent out multiple Grade 2 winner Irish War Cry on Sunday at Fair Hill to put in his final major work before Saturday’s 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby (G1).
The horseman called the move “perfect” after his trainee breezed six furlongs in 1:13.20 over the fast main track with jockey Rajiv Maragh aboard.
“He pretty much did what he wanted,” Motion said. “He sat a couple of lengths off his workmate and did it nicely. I was very happy.”
“I think Rajiv was very comfortable with him. He had been anxious to see how he’d handle sitting off another horse, which is something we’d done with him before in Florida but Rajiv hadn’t been on him then and wanted to see how he’d be. He handled it very well and was very relaxed about it.”
Sunday’s work was the first for Irish War Cry since he teamed with Maragh on April 8 to capture the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) by 3 1/2 lengths.
“It was the only time I worked him since the Wood, by design. That’s what I do. We don’t usually breeze until three weeks after a race,” Motion said. “I told Rajiv to try and go off in :13, which is right what they did on the money, and he finished up in :13 and change. I don’t think it could have gone any better. It was perfect.
“The two biggest attributes that he has are his stride, which is tremendous, and his demeanor,” Motion continued. “He kind of had this reputation of being a headstrong horse, (but) he’s not a headstrong horse as you just saw. He’s very relaxed. He’s done well being here, I think, for three weeks since the Wood. Now we got to Churchill and see what happens.”
Motion is following the same routine he used for Animal Kingdom, who triumphed in the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
“Interestingly it was almost an identical work, time-wise, although obviously we did it with Animal Kingdom at Churchill,” Motion said. “He needed to breeze at Churchill, Animal Kingdom. He’d never even run on the dirt. He probably never breezed on the dirt, so (we) felt it was really important that he had that one work at Churchill. With this horse, I thought it was more important that he stayed here, in this environment.
“Everybody’s excited,” he added. “You’re on tenterhooks a little bit because you just hope that everything goes all right. That’s all you can hope for.”
With his final Derby work in the books, Irish War Cry is scheduled to van from Fair Hill in Maryland to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday morning.
Animal Kingdom earned his shot at Kentucky Derby glory with an easy win in the Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park, and trying to emulate that this year is Fast and Accurate.
The gray son of Hansen, who won this year’s Spiral by three parts of a length last out on March 25, vanned from Trackside Louisville to Churchill Downs Sunday morning to post his final drill for the Run for the Roses.
Working in company with stablemate Adventist, Fast and Accurate breezed five furlongs in 1:01.20 over Churchill’s fast main track with race rider Channing Hill in the irons.
“Everything went smoothly,” trainer Mike Maker said. “It was nothing out of the ordinary with him. I thought he handled the dirt well.”
McCraken also posted his final major move for Derby 143 on Sunday at Churchill with regular jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard.
The Grade 2-winning son of Ghostzapper breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80 for trainer Ian Wilkes, clocking splits of :13, :25.20, :36.80 and :48.60. McCraken galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.40, seven-eighths in 1:27.20 and a mile in 1:41.80.
“It was just what I wanted,” Wilkes said. “I only wanted him to gallop out an extra eighth because I wanted him to want to do more and he wants to do more.”
Just like in his last work on April 24, McCraken galloped out well past the track kitchen at the half-mile pole.
“The last three times he has done that,” Hernandez said. “You think he is going to pull up and then he spots the pony and takes off again. He just enjoys what he is doing. He sees the pony and doesn’t want to go back to the barn.”
McCraken suffered his first loss last out when third in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland, but before that scored in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs to open his sophomore season. He closed out 2016 with victories in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) and Street Sense Stakes, both at Churchill.
“I feel like he is back into his rhythm,” Wilkes said. “The Blue Grass was a little different for him in that he was fresh and didn’t switch leads and that took away from his punch.
“A lot of horses have the talent, but they don’t have the class. This horse has the class,” the horseman added. “You can have all the talent in the world, but if they can’t handle the pressure, that’s the difference. The horse with class can handle the pressure and get better.”
In other Kentucky Derby news:
U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) winner Thunder Snow arrived at Churchill Downs at 7:10 a.m. (ET) following an eight-hour flight from East London Airport to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and a van ride to Louisville.
“We left England last night at 6:30 p.m. and he couldn’t have traveled any better,” said Rachel Perry, the barn manager who traveled with Thunder Snow from Godolphin Stables in Newmarket, near London. “He’s a well-traveled horse. He’s just come from Dubai to England and England to here. And it’s warm in Dubai, as well, so I don’t see any problem for him.
“He’s a good horse and he’s quite sound anyway. He’s a very laid-back horse, and good horses tend to be that way. I’m very happy with him.”
Thunder Snow will have to spend 42 hours in quarantine before he can try out Churchill’s main track.
“He’ll walk in the quarantine barn two or three times a day and then Tuesday we’ll get to the track,” Perry said.
Trainer Todd Pletcher sent two of his Kentucky Derby contenders – Tampa Bay Derby (G2) hero Tapwrit and Florida Derby (G1) romper Always Dreaming – out for some exercise on Sunday morning while his third, Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up Patch, walked the shedrow.
“Nothing special there. Just a day off,” said Pletcher about Patch before confirming Louisiana Derby pilot Tyler Gaffalione will be back aboard for the Kentucky Derby.
Tapwrit jogged under the Twin Spires but Always Dreaming was full of energy during his 1 1/4-mile gallop around the oval.
“He’s a good-feeling colt and his energy level is off the charts,” Pletcher said after the exercise. “The trick for us is to keep him focused.”
Battle of Midway and Sonneteer both toured Churchill for the first time on Sunday after arriving Saturday afternoon from Southern California.
Battle of Midway, second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) last out, had regular exercise rider Edgar Rodriguez aboard.
“He was on his toes, feeling frisky and settled right in,” said Christina Jelm, the East Coast assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “This morning he had a one-mile jog and a walk through the paddock. Everything’s on schedule and going as planned. He’s a big, sleek, great animal, and he’s been perfect since he’s been here.”
The maiden Sonneteer, second in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and fourth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) in his last pair of starts, galloped under exercise rider Maurillo Garcia.
“He travels so well. He doesn’t care where he’s at,” said assistant trainer Julie Clark, adding the Keith Desormeaux pupil would work Monday with race rider Kent Desormeaux aboard.
Blue Grass upsetter Irap also made his Churchill debut Sunday morning, jogging during the 8:30-8:45 special training period for Derby and Kentucky Oaks (G1) runners with regular exercise rider Tony Romero holding the reins.
“We tried jogging him the wrong way outside, but he got too rank with that,” assistant trainer Leandro Mora said. “So we just let him go around with the other horses.
“I wanted to get him out this morning with lots of people around. We’re not going to hide him. The more he’s around people and crowds, the better chance he’ll have to deal with the scene we’re going to see here next Saturday.
“Irap has just been getting better,” Mora added. “We believed he belonged in the Blue Grass, even though he was a maiden. He proved us right. We think he belongs here, too.”
Multiple Grade 2 scorer Girvin walked the shedrow at trainer Joe Sharp’s Keeneland barn on Sunday, one day after posting his final major work for the Derby.
“He came out great. Everything is going well and I couldn’t be happier,” said Sharp said, adding Girvin will van to Churchill Tuesday evening.
The John Shirreffs-trained duo of Gormley and Royal Mo are scheduled to depart for Churchill from California Monday morning. Santa Anita Derby winner Gormley is in the field but Grade 3 victor Royal Mo needs one defection to get in.
Trainer Steve Asmussen’s trio of Derby runners – Hence, Lookin at Lee and Untrapped – are scheduled to work four furlongs on Monday morning.
“We’ll send ‘Lee out early,” Asmussen said. “We’ll stay with what we’ve been doing. Since Hence and Untrapped had already been in the Derby field, they’ll continue to go out at the 8:30 time.”