With his deep ties to the Garden State, New Jersey is rallying around Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2) winner Irish War Cry as he prepares for a start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) May 6 at Churchill Downs.
A homebred for Isabelle de Tomaso, a daughter of Monmouth Park founder Amory Haskell, New Jersey-bred Irish War Cry enters the Derby off a 3 1/2-length victory in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack after opening the season with a win in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The Thoroughbred Breeders' Association of New Jersey has put up a pair of billboards in the state wishing Irish War Cry luck in the Louisville classic.
"Everybody here is really excited about Irish War Cry," said TBANJ executive director Michael Campbell. "It's really exciting for us and the entire program.
"This has been a great year for New Jersey-breds, even beyond Irish War Cry. Sunny Ridge has won some stakes in New York. Green Gratto won the Carter (Handicap, G1). So having a New Jersey-bred win the Carter and the Wood Memorial on the same day, it's special. It’s been a good year for the program."
Rory Huston, farm manager at Patricia Bailey's Overbrook Farms near Colt's Neck, N.J., said state breeders, and his neighbors in general, are thrilled to have a New Jersey-bred in the Derby.
"It's brought a lot of excitement to the farm—the people here. I'm getting a lot of feedback from my friends. Everybody's excited to have a Jersey-bred going to the Derby," Huston said. "New Jersey needed a little something, because we're definitely on the downward spiral here."
Thoroughbred breeding numbers have been down in the Garden State. Twenty years ago the state had 414 registered Thoroughbreds born in the state, but in 2015 that number was down to 122. New Jersey breeding numbers also are down relative to the rest of North America. In 2007 they accounted for 1% of all North American Thoroughbreds, but that percentage was cut in half by 2015 (the most recent year documented).
Irish War Cry will attempt to join Regret (1915) and Cavalcade (1934) as the third Jersey-bred to win the Louisville classic. His owner-breeder certainly brings deep New Jersey ties to the mix as they attempt to end the drought at 83 years.
As a child de Tomaso rode horses at the family's farm in Middletown, N.J. Her father helped launch Monmouth Park in 1946 and served as track president until his death in 1966. Today de Tomaso has five mares at Overbrook Farms and another three with her sister Hope Jones, who also has some of her own mares.
Jones said the New Jersey program was better a few years ago, but they love New Jersey breeding and racing, want to support it, and hope it turns around.
"We were brought up in New Jersey, brought up at Monmouth Park," Jones said. "We both live in Florida now and my sister lives part of the year in Italy, but we both love going back to Monmouth."
Huston said the sisters' loyalty is much appreciated at the 220-acre Overbrook Farm.
"She and her sister have been good for us. Without them, we would have been in trouble a long time ago," Huston said. "They've kept quite a few horses here through the years and we appreciate it. They’re great owners, They deserve a lot of success.
"They understand the game. That’s important nowadays for an owner. They’ve done it a long time and know the problems and issues. They’re a great bunch of people and deserve a nice horse."
Not only is de Tomaso the breeder of Irish War Cry, but she’s also the breeder of his dam, Irish Sovereign; second dam, Irish Genius; and third dam, Irish Trip.
"She has terrific mares and sends them to nice stallions," Campbell said. "Those mares could be foaled anywhere, but she supports the New Jersey program. With all of the difficult times that we've had in the last number of years, I think it's great. We're certainly appreciative of her support."
The sisters have bred Thoroughbreds in New Jersey for five decades and they present the trophy each year to the winner of the Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) at Monmouth.
Based on the current 20 expected Derby horses, Kentucky-breds lead the way with 16. The other four slots belong to Irish War Cry; Godolphin Racing's Thunder Snow, an Irish-bred; Conrad Farms' State of Honor, an Ontario-bred; and Kendall Hansen's Fast and Accurate, a Pennsylvania-bred.
UAE Derby Sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) winner Thunder Snow will try to become the first Irish-bred to win the Derby. There have been eight previous Irish-breds to start in the Derby, with the top finish being the seventh-place runs of Dr. Devious in 1992 and Hanuman Highway in 1998. A homebred (Darley), Thunder Snow is a son of Helmet—Eastern Joy by Dubai Destination.
Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) runner-up State of Honor will try to join Northern Dancer (1964) and Sunny's Halo (1983) as the only horses bred in Canada to win the Derby. A homebred, State of Honor is a son of To Honor and Serve—State Cup, by Elusive Quality.
JACK Cincinnati Casino Spiral Stakes (G3) winner Fast and Accurate will try to join Lil E. Tee (1992) and Smarty Jones (2004) as the only Pennsylvania-breds to win the Derby. Bred by John Penn, Fast and Accurate is a son of Hansen—It’s Heidi’s Dance, by Green Dancer.