On the Road to the Kentucky Derby with Rajiv Maragh

Rajiv Maragh aboard Irish War Cry after winning the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent racing personalities for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby. The opening leg of the Triple Crown will be run on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

In concluding the series, he talks to jockey Rajiv Maragh, who overcame long odds to reach the Derby with Irish War Cry, winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct the first time Maragh was aboard.

Maragh was involved in a horrific accident on July 10, 2015 at Belmont Park that left him with four collapsed vertebrae, a broken rib and a collapsed lung. His breathing difficulties were so severe that he consumed two tanks of oxygen during the ambulance ride to the hospital.

Maragh, 31, began his comeback at Aqueduct last winter, believing he needed to sacrifice potential Derby mounts in order to rebuild business at his New York base.

PEDULLA: As you prepare for the Derby, do you reflect on your accident and how far you’ve come back?

MARAGH: I’m definitely happy to be where I’m at. Based on last year, I was in bad shape.  But I’m over that hump, so I don’t want to think about it too much.

PEDULLA: Is that accident the most difficult thing you had to overcome in your life?

MARAGH: Yes, most definitely, that’s been the biggest obstacle in my life. What I’ve been through was difficult.

PEDULLA: When you made the decision to stay at Aqueduct for the winter, did you think you were giving up any shot at a Derby mount?

MARAGH: When I was deciding to stay at Aqueduct, I was thinking I would not get to ride 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail or top turf horses. That was the downside to staying at Aqueduct.

Maragh on Irish War Cry. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

PEDULLA: When you found out you were going to ride Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial, how did you react?

MARAGH: When I found out I was going to ride Irish War Cry, I was ecstatic. I had watched the horse run in Florida, and I regarded him as one of the top 3-year-olds in the country.

PEDULLA: What was that performance like in the Wood?

MARAGH: It was an awesome performance. I felt like he won with authority and I wasn’t at the bottom of him. There was still more there.

PEDULLA: I know you worked him on Sunday (six furlongs, 1:13.20 at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland). How did that go?

MARAGH: The work went great. He did everything we were hoping he would, and he did it relatively easily, well within himself. The work could not have gone any better.

PEDULLA: What are the qualities that make him the good horse that he is?

MARAGH: His demeanor. He’s got a great demeanor, very settled, very focused, and he’s got a big, long stride to him. He’s got all the attributes you want in a good horse.

PEDULLA: Any doubt that he’ll get the mile and a quarter?

MARAGH: I have no doubt that he will get the distance. He had a lot of energy in the Wood and he didn’t show any sign that he wouldn’t go farther.

PEDULLA: How difficult is it to win the Derby?

MARAGH: It’s always difficult to win the Derby because there are so many variables and so many horses. I finished third (Mucho Macho Man, 2011) and I finished fourth (Wicked Strong, 2014) in the Derby. I feel I’m pretty close to winning one.

PEDULLA: Is this the most excited you’ve been about riding in the Derby?

MARAGH: I’m always excited to ride in the Derby. I wouldn’t say I’m more excited. I am more appreciative because what happened to me with my career as a jockey, I almost had that taken away from me.

PEDULLA: Do you find yourself getting more emotional as this comes closer?

MARAGH: The emotion hasn’t really set in yet. If I win, I’m sure I’ll be emotional.

PEDULLA: Should Irish War Cry be considered among the top horses in the race?

MARAGH: He definitely has to be considered as a top contender. I’m very confident in his ability and the way he’s feeling at the moment. It’s all systems go.

PEDULLA: What would it mean to you to win the Derby?

MARAGH: It’s hard to put into words what it would mean. It would be a big accomplishment for me with all of the obstacles I’ve had to overcome.

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