Isabelle de Tomaso’s homebred Irish War Cry, one of the leading Triple Crown contenders last spring, made an emphatic return to that form for the first time as an older horse with a commanding 4 ½-length triumph in Friday’s $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3) at legendary Pimlico Race Course.
The 48th running of the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special for 3-year-olds and up was the third of seven stakes, four graded, worth $1.15 million in purses on a spectacular 14-race program that served as a fitting prelude to Saturday’s 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1).
Sent off at 4-1 in the field of eight, Irish War Cry ($10) gave both jockey Jose Ortiz and Fair Hill (Md.) Training Center-based conditioner Graham Motion their first wins in the Pimlico Special. The winning time was 1:55.51 over a sloppy, sealed main track.
Grade 3 winners One Liner and Untrapped finished in a dead-heat for second, 1 ¾ lengths ahead of 20-1 long shot Discreet Lover. It was 2 ½ lengths back to another Grade 3 winner, Rated R Superstar, in fourth. Afleet Willy, Hedge Fund and 9-5 favorite Something Awesome completed the order of finish.
Motion Confident About Off Track
“I really always thought he would handle [the off track]. He trains great on it in the mornings. It didn’t worry me at all,” Motion said. “I kind of was hoping he would end up on the lead, but talking to Jose he thought there was a lot of speed in here. So I was kind of surprised when he jumped out and nobody went with him. I felt pretty confident down the backside.
“I just wanted to get him back on track and I feel like today we did that. It was important to me. This horse shows so much in the morning and it’s so frustrating to see him run disappointedly in the afternoons,” he added. “He really did get the thumps last time. I really think the hot, humid weather at Gulfstream doesn’t agree with him. He’s run his two poorest races down there. I think getting the cooler air of today is like running at Aqueduct last year. It’s just a different deal. It was very reassuring.”
Irish War Cry, breaking from the rail, was keen to go on under Ortiz, who had ridden him in each of his first two starts as a 4-year-old, in which he was second in the Hal’s Hope (G3) and sixth in the Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile (G2), the latter March 31 in his most recent effort.
Thumps Cause of Sub Par Effort
The striking chestnut son of two-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Curlin exited that race with a case of the thumps, an electrolyte imbalance that helped to explain his dull performance. He was anything but dull in his return, eager to set the pace from his rail post through solid fractions of 23.19 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 47.25 for the half and 1:11.58 through six furlongs.
One Liner, Afleet Willy and Untrapped were tightly bunched in the closest pack pursuing Irish War Cry, with Hedge Fund leading the next flight followed by Discreet Lover and late-running Rated R Superstar and Something Awesome trailing the field.
Irish War Cry remained in command through a mile in 1:36.36 while Afleet Willy began to drop back and leave One Liner the leader’s nearest rival. Under Ortiz’s urging, Irish War Cry began to separate from his rivals down the lane, while Untrapped gained steadily on One Liner until they hit the wire together.
“The key was the distance today. With the 1 3/16 miles, he broke well, I let him run to the first turn, took a hold of him and he got under his feet beautifully,” Ortiz said. “When I asked him by the three-eighths pole, he kept going and gave me everything he had. I am glad he showed up today because he has been working really nice in the morning. I worked him all winter. He wasn’t performing at Gulfstream in the winter. Today he finally ran well.”
Irish War Cry opened his career with four wins in his first five starts, including the 2016 Marylander Stakes at Laurel Park in his juvenile finale and the Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park in his sophomore debut. Though a dull seventh in the Fountain of Youth (G2) – a race Motion also felt the colt was affected by thumps – he bounced back to win the Wood Memorial (G2) in his final Kentucky Derby (G1) prep.
One of the top choices in the Derby, in which he faded to 10th after racing near the pace, Irish War Cry skipped the Preakness and led into deep stretch of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (G1) but had to settle for second. He finished off the board in the Haskell (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G2) to end his 3-year-old season.
Fourth Stakes Win for Motion Trainee
The Pimlico Special victory gave Irish War Cry five wins – four in stakes, three graded – from 12 career starts with $1,252,060 in purse earnings.
Something Awesome, the other millionaire in the field along with Irish War Cry, had won three straight starts including the General George (G3) and $1.2 million Charles Town Classic (G2) heading into the Pimlico Special, the last two with Hall of Famer Edgar Prado up.
“He had to be the favorite coming off the big race in Charles Town. He’s really been consistent this year and his races were getting better and better,” Prado said. “He just bounced. We were getting closer and closer but he just didn’t have anything left near the end.”
This year’s Special marked the 80th anniversary of the iconic 1938 match race won by Seabiscuit over Triple Crown winner War Admiral. The stakes was discontinued after 1958 but revived in 1988 by late Maryland Jockey Club president Frank De Francis. The Special’s winners include Triple Crown champions Whirlaway, Citation and Assault and modern-day Horses of the Year Criminal Type, Cigar, Skip Away, Mineshaft and Invasor.
Michael Dempsey’s Preakness Day Report $20.00
Michael’s Report includes his selections, analysis, fair odds line, and wagering recommendations for the entire Preakness Day card from historic Pimlico. Michael is a Maryland bred and raced horses at Pimlico and knows the circuit from the backstretch to the finish line.
The second jewel of the Triple Crown will be run on Saturday May 19 at Pimlico. The big day of racing has seven supporting stakes including the Sir Barton Stakes, Miss Preakness Stakes (G3), Dixie Stakes (G2), Gallorette Handicap (G3), James W. Murphy Stakes, The Very One Stakes and the Maryland Sprint Stakes (G3). Report available by May 18