Irish War Cry dominates on the lead, Classic Empire disappoints in Holy Bull; El Areeb much the best in Withers

February 5th, 2017

It’s early February but Saturday proved to be a big day in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, with top contenders in play in two of the three points’ races offered.

The $350,000 Holy Bull (G2) came last in the sequence but proved to be the most compelling as champion 2-year-old Classic Empire came up flat as the 1-2 favorite, struggling home a well-beaten third behind wire-to-wire winner Irish War Cry, who remained unbeaten while making his first attempt at two turns and in a Kentucky Derby qualifier.

A New Jersey-bred son of Curlin, Irish War Cry sped to a clear early lead under Joel Rosario, who didn’t ask his mount until the completion of the far turn. The chestnut accelerated to the wire full of run, stretching his win margin to 3 ¾ lengths while traveling well off the rail throughout the 1 1/16-mile race, and stopped the teletimer in 1:42.52.

Gunnevera, who was last seen capturing the Delta Jackpot (G3) and also won the Saratoga Special (G2), rallied to be a clear second, five lengths better than Classic Empire. The prohibitive early Kentucky Derby favorite, Classic Empire appeared sweaty and agitated during the post parade and refused to load momentarily. He settled into a decent trip in third during the early stages but it turned out to be a one-paced performance as Classic Empire failed to resemble his outstanding winning form in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).

Owned and bred by Isabelle Tomaso, Irish War Cry is trained by Graham Motion. He won his first two starts at Laurel Park, registering excellent BRIS Speed ratings of 99 and 100, and the improving colt hails from the Polish Numbers mare Irish Sovereign.

Irish War Cry will point toward the February 4 Fountain of Youth (G2) over the same track and we’ll see whether trainer Mark Casse opts to ship Classic Empire elsewhere next time.

El Areeb backed up his romp in the January 2 Jerome (G3) with a facile 4 ¼-length tally in the $250,000 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct, closely stalking the pace in third before being given his cue approaching the top of the stretch. The gray son of Exchange Rate displayed a dynamic turn of foot into the straightaway, quickly drawing clear under regular rider Trevor McCarthy as he rolled home much the best in a 4 ¼-length decision.

The Cathal Lynch-trained colt completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.47, notching his fourth straight convincing victory for owner M M G Stables, and he’s now second on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 20 points. The Laurel-based sophomore has developed into a serious contender, producing 102 and 100 BRIS Speed numbers in his two previous appearances, and El Areeb will either head to the March 4 Gotham (G3) or wait for the April 8 Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct.

Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Moss’ Royal Mo joined the Kentucky Derby trail with a wire-to-wire score in the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita, drawing off in deep stretch to win by 3 ½ lengths. Second in his first two outings, the Uncle Mo colt was exiting a November 27 maiden triumph at Del Mar and stepped 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.48.

Trained by John Shirreffs and ridden by Victor Espinoza, Royal Mo has the same connections of Gormley, who is currently third on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard after winning the January 7 Sham (G3). Royal Mo left the starting gate as the 3-2 second choice among five rivals. Irap closely tracked the pacesetter in second before barely saving place honors, a neck better than 7-5 favorite Sheer Flattery.

Iriish War Cry photo courtesy of Leslie Martin/Adam Coglianese Photography

El Areeb photo by Susie Raisher/Adam Coglianese Photography