He has not been a simple horse to campaign, this New Jersey-bred colt who galloped his way to the sport's greatest stages for Isabelle de Tomaso.
Just when trainer Graham Motion thinks Irish War Cry is primed for a big effort, the talented chestnut throws in a subpar run—like he did last out with a sixth in the March 31 Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile Stakes (G2).
But on a rainy day at Pimlico Race Course, a year removed from the Triple Crown campaign that resulted in his runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1), homebred Irish War Cry came through with authority in the $300,000 Pimlico Special Stakes (G3). It was the Curlin colt's first victory since the 2017 Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2).
"I just wanted to get him back on track, and I feel like today we did that," Motion said. "It was important to me. This horse shows so much in the morning, and it's so frustrating to see him run disappointingly in the afternoons."
Motion said Irish War Cry got a case of "thumps," synchronous diaphragmatic flutter, when he ran in the Hardacre Mile. The colt struggled in the Sunshine State as well last year, where he faded to seventh in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) after winning three in a row—his maiden and the Marylander Stakes, both at Laurel Park in late 2016, and the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park in February of 2017.
"I really think the hot, humid weather at Gulfstream doesn't agree with him. He's run his two poorest races down there," Motion said. "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."
Jockey Jose Ortiz and Motion thought there would be more speed in the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special, but Irish War Cry naturally inherited the lead when he broke well from post 1.
"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," Motion said. "I felt pretty confident down the backside."
Ortiz got his mount to relax on the front end without facing any real pressure, and Irish War Cry posted fractions of :23.19, :47.25, and 1:11.58 on a 1 1/2-length lead, with One Liner tracking second. Set down for the drive off the far turn, Irish War Cry increased the distance to 2 1/2 lengths in a 1:36.36 mile and drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:55.51 on a sloppy (sealed) track.
"The key was the distance today," Ortiz said. "He broke well. I let him run to the first turn, took a hold of him, and he got under his feet beautifully. 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."
Off at odds of 4-1, Irish War Cry returned $10, $5, and $4.20. One Liner was worth $3.20 and $3.80, and Untrapped brought $4.20 and $5. Rated R Superstar, Afleet Willy, Hedge Fund, and Something Awesome completed the order of finish. Papa Zulu was scratched.
Irish War Cry, out of the Polish Numbers mare Irish Sovereign, improved his record to five wins and two seconds from 12 starts, with earnings of $1,252,060. Last year, after he rebounded from the Fountain of Youth disappointment, he ran 10th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), picked up that Belmont check for second, was fourth in the Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1), and finished eighth in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1).
The Pimlico Special was Irish War Cry's third start of the season. He ran second in the Hal's Hope Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream in Feburary before finishing off the board in the Hardacre Mile.
According to Motion, the colt's next target is yet to be determined.
"I have not gone beyond this race," he said.