We saw two colts sort of redeem themselves on April 8 in major Kentucky Derby prep races. Irish War Cry went up to New York to win the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Gormley overcame a crowded field to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in Southern California.
Irish War Cry was coming off a lackluster performance in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park in South Florida after jumping onto everyone’s Derby list following his score in the Holy Bull. This looks like a hot and cold type horse and I have never been a big fan of Aqueduct racing in the winter and early spring. And besides I don’t know what he faced in the race.
Trainer Graham Motion said, “I think it’s so good that Rajiv (Maragh) came to the barn and has been on him the last few mornings to see how he is. He’s not a difficult horse. He’s not a rank horse; he’s a very classy horse. We both thought it was a good idea for Rajiv to get on him in the mornings. I thought he won pretty comfortably and it doesn’t seem like distance (1¼ miles) of the Derby will be an issue.”
The minor awards in the Wood went to Battalion Runner, Cloud Computing and True Timber.
Gormley was thought to be one of the top challengers on the West Coast until he race behind Mastery in the San Felipe. At the time trainer John Shirreffs said he thought the colt was too close to the pace and they decided to try a new tactic in the Santa Anita Derby and lay off the leaders. It worked.
“I think the key was (jockey Victor) Espinoza rating Gormley and then making his big move. This is very exciting. It’s thrilling to have a Kentucky Derby horse and it’s for the same owners (Jerry and Ann Moss) as Giacomo, Shirreffs said.
Espinoza echoed those thoughts, “He’s really quick out of the gate and today the plan was to take him back and make him run because it seemed like there was a little bit of speed in the race. I had a little bit of a hard time taking him back but all I had to do was jerk him one time, a bit harder than I wanted, and that’s all it took. He relaxed very nice. Down the backside, I started laughing to myself because I knew I was in a good position and I knew all the horses in front of me were going to stop.”
The runner-ups in the Santa Anita Derby were Battle of Midway, Royal Mo and Reach the World.
The shock of the day was maiden Irap taking down the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. The big battle was supposed to be between McCraken and Tapwrit. McCraken won the Sam F. Davis on Feb. 11 at Tampa Bay with Tapwrit running second. McCraken then suffered an injury and had to miss the Tampa Bay Derby, which was won by Tapwrit.
The battle never evolved as McCraken appeared to need the race and Tapwrit never fired.
Trainer Ian Wilkes said McCraken needed the race and still was fatigued when the colt was taken to the track on Sunday morning. Wilkes said the Blue Grass set McCraken up for the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Tapwrit, said the colt had no excuses and barring any signs of injury the plans were still to go to the Kentucky Derby.
“He seemed to run kind of flat. I thought he saddled beautifully and behaved really well in the post parade and the gate. He had his head in the air a little bit and missed the break a touch. Then he got stuck four or five wide all the way around there. It seemed like he struggled with the race track a little bit. He just ran kind of evenly and flat the whole way,” Pletcher said.
As for Irap, the winner, he was a seven-time maiden and had been running everywhere this spring. He’s trained by Doug O’Neill and owned by J. Paul Reddam.
O’Neill said, “He’s a son of Tiznow, and he has a ton of ability. The fact he was still a maiden was kind of unfortunate, but he’s always been a talented horse. (Jockey) Julien (Leparoux) gave him a great ride. Unbelievable.”
The trainer said the Kentucky Derby was on the radar. “That’s the plan. As long as he stays injury free, that will be our next move.”
There are only two points’ races left, the Arkansas Derby and the Lexington, both on April 15. The top prize in the Arkansas Derby is 100 points while the top prize in the Lexington only is 10.
My top 10 picks for this week are: (The full points’ list can be found at the Churchill Downs web site)
Always Dreaming 100 points
Thunder Snow 100
Irish War Cry 110
Classic Empire 32
Practical Joke 74
Cover Photo: Irap; Keeneland File Photo