I can tell you who my top pick was in the Derby most years since I started paying attention to the race three and a half decades ago. This year it was Irish War Cry, who was added to that list. And like too many who came before him, he disappointed. He has an interesting distinction, though -- he is the only top pick to date that was sired by another of my top picks -- Curlin. That great horse also disappointed in the Derby but redeemed himself in the Preakness.
So can this horse, if he is indeed entered in the Belmont after being the last of 14 horses to be put under consideration, act like his famous dad and find redemption in his second try?
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Last race: The Derby effort was a real disappointment. He was the initial cause of the collision that Classic Empire ultimately got the worst of, but he came out of it okay and relaxed into his race. He was stalking the pace much of the way, and as they entered the stretch he looked to be in ideal position -- comfortable and with room to move. Instead of attacking, though, he ran out of gas and faded to 10th. I don't really know what went wrong, because the pace he was a part of was manageable, and he has the breeding to handle the Derby distance better than that. Maybe the collision early on took too much out of him. Or perhaps he was one of many who didn't like the wet track or didn't move over it efficiently. Or maybe it just wasn't his day. Whatever the reason, he is among my bigger regrets of past picks because we just didn't get to see all that he has to offer.
Prior experience: Before the Derby the colt really jumped onto the scene in a big way by winning the Wood Memorial. In that race he again stalked the early pace, but this time he was able to take control just into the stretch, and he pulled away for a commanding and easy win. Preakness winner Cloud Computing was third that day in his last race before the Preakness. It was a very nice race, and the best of the colt's career. He started his career at Laurel Park like many of Graham Motion's horses. He broke his maiden at first ask and then won an overnight stakes there. Then he headed to Florida where he won the Holy Bull, beating likely Belmont favorite Classic Empire. Next came the first blemish on his record. He pressed the early pace and then faded badly -- much like he did in the Derby. He wound up seventh. And then it was the Wood Memorial.
Trainer: Graham Motion is best known, at least for our purposes here, as the trainer of 2011 Derby winner, and eventual Dubai World Cup victor, Animal Kingdom. Motion, who is originally from England, trains in a different style than most over here. He keeps most of his horses at his own training center instead of on track, he does his training on synthetic surfaces to save the legs of his horses, and he is very conservative with his charges. And it has worked very well for him -- he has more than 2,100 wins. So, if he says that this horse is ready for this spot -- especially after giving no indication early that this was a possibility -- then it is a good indication that he has bounced back well and put the past behind him.
Jockey: Rajiv Maragh has been on board for the last two races, so he has seen the best and worst of this colt. Maragh is working his way back from a very serious injury suffered at Belmont Park, but he has been riding decently since returning. He will never be my favorite jockey, and isn't the best of the bunch in this race by any means. He is capable, though, and certainly won't be working against this colt.
Breeding: Irish War Cry is a son of the great Curlin, who won the Preakness, the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Dubai World Cup, and several other major races. He won multiple times at a mile and a quarter, so this distance should be manageable for his offspring. He has only been a sire since 2009, but has already sired Belmont winner Palace Malice and Preakness winner Exaggerator. Curlin is a son of Smart Strike, who also sired Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, and was the damsire of Derby winner Mine That Bird. Irish War Cry's damsire Polish Numbers was more of a turf sire than anything else, but through his strong Northern Dancer bloodlines he offers stamina influence as well. This horse has the breeding to do well in this race -- or at least it wasn't his breeding to blame for fading so badly in the Derby.
Odds: He sits at +900 in futures odds betting at MyBookie , which has him behind Classic Empire, Lookin at Lee, Epicharis, Tapwrit, and Senior Investment. Given his last race, I'm not surprised that is where he slots in, but if I could get that kind of price on him at post time I would be a very happy camper.
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