Irish War Cry Returns in Hal's Hope Stakes

Had the final furlong of the third leg of the Triple Crown gone a couple lengths the other way, Graham Motion might not be entertaining his current train of thought.

Turning for home in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1) in June, it was Motion's trainee Irish War Cry leading the procession into the stretch, a position the son of Curlin  only yielded to Tapwrit just past the eighth pole. It was a stinging defeat, but one that validated Motion's belief in the colt's depth of talent.

If the conditioner's present theory holds water, it is an outing that will go down as a prime example of the breadth of Irish War Cry's ability.

Isabelle de Tomaso's homebred multiple graded stakes winner will cut back to one turn for the first time since his 2-year-old season when he makes his 4-year-old debut in the one-mile $100,000 Hal's Hope Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 24. 

This time last year, Irish War Cry looked to be one who would thrive over classic distances following his triumph in the 2017 Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2), where he bested a field that included juvenile champion Classic Empire . He then captured the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2) prior to dropping his last four starts of the season. Shortening the chestnut runner up, Motion hopes he gets a string of consistent results out of his gifted, but erratic, protégé.

"Perhaps the distance of the classic races he was running in last year is really not what he is looking to do," Motion said. "I think this might be more in his scope—this might be more what he wants to do. You know, I tried with his (half) brother (graded stakes winner) Irish Strait going a little further, but I feel like the mile is probably what this family is looking to do. 

"For sure, (his Belmont run), that kind of makes you scratch your head a bit. But hopefully at shorter distances, he'll be that much more an improved version."

After winning his first three career starts, including a pair of sprints at Laurel Park to start his career, Irish War Cry has struggled to maintain his best form on a routine basis. His Holy Bull triumph was followed by a seventh-place clunker in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). After taking the Wood Memorial by 3 1/2 lengths, he flattened out in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and crossed the wire 10th.

"If someone says, 'Well, he runs great at Gulfstream,' well, yes, but he also ran one of his poorest races at Gulfstream too," Motion said. "He's a bit of an enigma in that respect."

When Irish War Cry faltered in the stretch during an eighth-place finish in the Sept. 23 Pennsylvania Derby (G1), Motion called it a season for the colt and sent him to his base at Fair Hill Training Center for a 45-day freshening. Since returning to the work tab Dec. 31, Motion says Irish War Cry has looked the part of a horse who has changed for the better.

"He picked up breezing at the start of the year and has kind of done everything—knock on wood—on schedule," Motion said. "If I had never had him before and someone just sent him to me, I would say he's just spectacular in the morning. To watch him train, he really does things so easily."

Irish War Cry will be ridden by Jose Ortiz for the first time Saturday, but has had the jockey aboard for his last several works.

Included among the seven rivals Irish War Cry is set to face Todd Pletcher-trained graded-stakes winners Malagacy and Send It In.

Sumaya U.S. Stable's Malagacy returned from a nine-month layoff to finish second behind Extravagant Kid in a six-furlong optional claiming allowance race Jan. 18 at Gulfstream. The son of Shackleford  won the Rebel Stakes (G2) in March and had not started since running fifth in last year's Arkansas Derby (G1).

"I expect him to benefit from the race. He's come back with some good breezes since then," Pletcher said. "I think he'll benefit from the little stretch-out."

Send It In has been idle since capturing the April 8 Excelsior Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct Racetrack. The 6-year-old gelded son of Big Brown  has won nine of 17 career starts, including three two-turn stakes.

"He hasn't been out in a while. A mile is probably a tick short of his absolute best, but he has won going the one-turn mile before," Pletcher said. "We need to get him started somewhere." 

Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence's Economic Model is also slated to make his 2018 debut in the Hal's Hope. The Chad Brown-trained son of Flatter  ended his 2017 campaign with a victory in a one-mile optional-claiming allowance at Belmont Park Oct. 12, halting a seven-race losing skid that included a runner-up finish in the 2016 Ketel One King's Bishop Stakes (G1).

Entries: Hal's Hope S. (G3)

Gulfstream Park, Saturday, February 24, 2018, Race 12

  • Grade III
  • 1m
  • Dirt
  • $100,000
  • 4 yo's & up
  • 5:35 PM (local)
11Irish War Cry (NJ)Jose L. Ortiz119H. Graham Motion5/2
22Economic Model (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateIrad Ortiz, Jr.119Chad C. Brown3/1
33Conquest Big E (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateLuis Saez119Donna Green Hurtak8/1
44Tower of Texas (ON)Keeneland Sales GraduateTyler Gaffalione121Roger L. Attfield15/1
55Quijote (FL)Emisael Jaramillo119Armando De la cerda20/1
66Malagacy (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJavier Castellano117Todd A. Pletcher4/1
77Giuseppe the Great (KY)Nik Juarez117Nicholas P. Zito20/1
88Send It In (NY)John R. Velazquez119Todd A. Pletcher7/2