Tom Pedulla presents five major takeaways from the 93rd running of the $750,000 Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday at Aqueduct, the last major prep race in New York on the Road to the Kentucky Derby:
Irish War Cry Is Back
The performance of Irish War Cry is a credit to trainer Graham Motion and his staff. It was easy to give up on this colt after his dismal seventh-place finish in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes, when he languished 21 ¾ lengths behind victorious Gunnevera on March 4 at Gulfstream Park, and to dismiss his authoritative triumph in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes the month before as a race in which everything went his way on the front end. He rebounded to be push-button in the Wood, willing to relax in second off Battalion Runner before kicking in when Rajiv Maragh nudged him that it was time. Most impressive.
Rajiv on the Rise
Rajiv Maragh’s triumph signaled that he is all the way back after an arduous journey following severe injuries in an accident on July 10, 2015. Maragh’s mount clipped heels with another and landed on him. He feared for his life as he gasped for air, requiring two tanks of oxygen during the ambulance ride to New York’s North Shore Hospital. The combination of four compressed vertebrae, a broken rib and a collapsed lung forced the jockey to be sidelined for 16 months. He wore an upper body brace for nine of those. He decided to remain at Aqueduct this past winter to rebuild his business, knowing that might cost him top mounts. Yet it turned out he was in the right place at the right time when Motion needed a rider for Irish War Cry. “When I was down and out,” said Maragh, 31, “these are the days I dreamed about.”
Big Day for Garden State Program
New Jersey breeders can only hope that the success of Irish War Cry in the Grade 2 Wood after fellow New Jersey-bred Green Gratto delivered in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap will bring welcome attention to their program in a state in which racing struggles. Irish War Cry, owned by his breeder, Isabelle de Tomaso, is a powerfully-built son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. He looks the part of the serious Derby prospect that he now is. Green Gratto is a speedy 7-year-old son of Here’s Zealous. He hummed along on the front end to shock favorite Unified in the seven-furlong Carter. He was bred by Kaz Hill Farm.
Battalion Runner Earns Respect
Many handicappers thought Battalion Runner would follow the lead of stablemate Always Dreaming, who made the tremendous leap from the allowance ranks to graded stakes company to win the Xpressbet Florida Derby on April 1 for trainer Todd Pletcher. Battalion Runner looked as though he might pull that off as he showed the way in the Wood, but battle-tested Irish War Cry proved to be too tough and he settled for second. Still, it was an impressive performance that brought 40 qualifying points and likely a place in the Derby starting gate if the connections decide that should be their next step. Pletcher has been high on this Unbridled’s Song colt for some time. Now, his confidence has been justified.
Kudos to Cloud Computing
Trainer Chad Brown knew it was asking a lot to expect Cloud Computing to win the Wood in only his third career start. After all, the son of Maclean’s Music did not debut until he won at six furlongs at Aqueduct on Feb. 11. He showed ample ability when he stepped up to be second in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes and was an encouraging third in the Wood on an afternoon when speed held well at Aqueduct. It was telling that stalking Irish War Cry and pace-setting Battalion Runner finished one-two. Cloud Computing lacks that kind of front-end speed – but not talent. He is one to watch.