Is Irish War Cry the Real Deal?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues on Saturday with two major Derby prep races at Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park, including the $400,000 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). We're reaching the point where every prep race has serious Derby implications, for major qualification points are on the line and Derby dreams can be prolonged or dashed at any moment.

We'll focus our attention this week on the Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream's penultimate prep race for the Kentucky Derby...

Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II)

Although the race has drawn eleven horses, the recent announcement that early Kentucky Derby favorite McCraken will miss the March 11th Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) could have an impact on the Fountain of Youth field. The trainers of Beasley and Lookin for Eight are thinking of scratching to await the Tampa Bay Derby, which could leave the Fountain of Youth with just nine starters, and also a decidedly less contentious pace.

Assuming that Beasley and Lookin for Eight do scratch, that would leave Takaful and Three Rules as the likely pacesetters, with Talk Logistics another that could show speed. This could allow race favorite Irish War Cry to settle into a perfect trip just behind the leaders, and from there, he should be very tough to beat.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have been very excited about Irish War Cry since his maiden win at Laurel Park, and my excitement has only grown in the ensuing months. Following a game win in the Marylander Stakes on December 31st, Irish War Cry made his two-turn debut in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) here at Gulfstream last month and delivered a huge performance. After setting the early pace, Irish War Cry kicked away turning for home and won by a decisive 3 ¾ lengths despite racing a bit greenly in the homestretch.

Granted, Irish War Cry got a great setup in the Fountain of Youth-the fractions he set (:24.14, :47.92, and 1:11.87) were definitely on the slow side, and his lead was pretty much uncontested. In addition, runner-up Gunnevera had to steady on the far turn and lost his momentum at a critical point-you can make a case that Gunnevera would have finished much closer with a better trip.

However, I think it's important to note that from a visual perspective, Irish War Cry looked fantastic. He was absolutely full of run in the homestretch, bounding home with authority while running his final sixteenth of a mile in a quick :06.15 seconds despite appearing to be a little unfocused. I got the impression that Irish War Cry had a ton left in the tank and was even more superior than his margin of victory implies.

As a son of Curlin, Irish War Cry should only continue to improve, and judging from his impressive late-running maiden win, I think he might be even better rating off the pace with a target to chase. Furthermore, his most recent workout-in which he rated behind a workmate before pouncing in the homestretch-was eye-catching with a powerful gallop-out, and it drew rave reviews from clockers and others in the industry. Irish War Cry will be a short price (I expect him to go off at much lower than 5-2), but I don't think he'll be beaten.

Practical Joke is another runner that could draw significant wagering attention. Trained by Chad Brown, Practical Joke won the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) and Champagne Stakes (gr. I) last year and ran well enough in his two-turn debut to finish third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), beaten 7 ¾ lengths while finishing well clear of the rest of the field.

Practical Joke didn't get the best setup that day, racing wide while trying to close ground, so there's certainly room for improvement in the Fountain of Youth. He's been training steadily at Palm Meadows for his return, posting six straight workouts at a half-mile or longer, including a pair of bullet five-furlong breezes in February. Chad Brown does well with horses coming off layoffs, and actually won the Swale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream last month with Favorable Outcome, another colt that hadn't run since the Breeders' Cup. I would expect Practical Joke to be ready to roll off the layoff, although defeating Irish War Cry could be a challenge.

As mentioned earlier, Gunnevera finished a strong second in the Holy Bull despite losing his momentum while rallying on the far turn. Although he won a pair of graded stakes races as a two-year-old, including the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III), I believe the Holy Bull was his best run to date, and after drawing post two, he could be in the position to work out a ground-saving trip under four-time Eclipse award-winning jockey Javier Castellano.

My only hesitation is that Gunnevera has been training almost non-stop since last May; he did take a one-month break from breezing after the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes, but came right back on December 31st with five furlongs in a bullet :59 4/5 at Gulfstream Park West. With seven starts under his belt already, I'm not certain that Gunnevera has as much room for improvement as colts like Irish War Cry and Practical Joke, although he likely won't need to take a step forward to hit the board again.

So in essence, if Beasley and Lookin for Eight withdraw from the race, the Fountain of Youth could turn out to be a rather chalky event dominated by the three favorites. One longshot that is a bit appealing is the speedy Takaful, who is training well and could be set to rebound after a last-place finish in the Jerome Stakes (gr. III) over a muddy track last time out. He had previously won a 6 ½-furlong maiden race at Belmont by eight lengths before finishing third in the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (gr. II), a race that might have been too much too soon. As a son of Bernardini out of a Distorted Humor mare, he's bred to handle this distance and could get brave if able to clear the field from his wide draw and secure the lead, although that's a big if with Three Rules drawn to his inside.

But to put it simply, I think Irish War Cry is something special-a very talented colt with the potential to keep progressing and win the Kentucky Derby. I expect him to deliver a big run in the Fountain of Youth, and even though he'll be a short price, he is my selection to win. And just for fun, let's see if we can call the straight superfecta: Irish War Cry, Practical Joke, Gunnevera, and Takaful.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Fountain of Youth?


The Unlocking Winners Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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