05/04/2017 1:56PM

Derby clocker: Irish War Cry, Paradise Woods happy campers

Barbara D. Livingston
Irish War Cry, the Wood Memorial winner, looked relaxed and happy galloping about 1 3/4 miles on Thursday.

Churchill Downs

Weather: Cloudy

Track: Fast

Temp.: 52

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A couple of key players here this weekend, IRISH WAR CRY and PARADISE WOODS, put on a pretty good show for railbirds Thursday at Churchill Downs during the final regular morning of training for the 3-year-olds competing in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks and Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

The weather remains unseasonably cool, with plenty of rain in the forecast for both Friday and Saturday. Special training sessions for Derby horses were scheduled for Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 5:45 a.m.

Those who had Irish War Cry among their key selections but were undecided as to their top pick for the Derby may have moved him right to the top of their list after watching Thursday’s picture-perfect training session. Unlike a couple of days earlier, when he was a bit headstrong and rank while galloping, Irish War Cry was relaxed and happy, moving effortlessly over the track and looking a picture of health, galloping approximately 1 3/4 miles after the renovation break.

Paradise Woods hasn’t had a bad morning since arriving here this week, and she’s continued to flourish as the clock ticks down to post time for the Oaks. As easily and effortlessly as she was covering the ground on Thursday, it didn’t seem like she was clipping off furlong after furlong at a two-minute clip.

But the watch told the story, a mile from the six-furlong pole, once around, in 1:59.30, with her ears pricked the entire way, just skipping over the track as happy as can be. The California invader sure looks like a worthy and prohibitive favorite on Friday.

As has become commonplace these past several mornings, ALWAYS DREAMING gave exercise rider Nick Bush all he could handle on a number of occasions, most notably, it seemed, when changing leads. But Bush deftly kept the rambunctious colt well enough under control despite a variety of distractions to complete his 1 3/8-mile gallop at a reasonable pace and without any real incident. What happens when the draw reins come off on Derby Day remains the $64,000 question.

HENCE, the most highly regarded of trainer Steve Asmussen’s trio of Derby contenders, did get a bit hot again Thursday despite the crisp weather but otherwise had another very good day, galloping with nice energy before bouncing all the way back to the barn.

His stablemate LOOKIN AT LEE schooled at the gate, while UNTRAPPED was solid again, albeit a bit headstrong at times with so much traffic around during a crowded Oaks-Derby session.

STATE OF HONOR has stolen the show a bit from his much more heralded stablemate CLASSIC EMPIRE, at least during training hours, bounding along with a very positive energy level seemingly each morning, both prior to and since his most recent work.

Classic Empire, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t catch anyone’s attention were he not the reigning 2-year-old male champ and morning-line favorite for the Derby. His gallops have been routine and unremarkable, although the good news is that they’ve all continued to be incident-free.

GIRVIN certainly isn’t the prettiest mover of this bunch, but he may have been a trifle better Thursday, his second day in town, when given the opportunity to warm up with a one-mile jog before reversing direction to gallop another mile under Rosie Napravnik.

GORMLEY was a little fireball on Wednesday and even more so Thursday, tugging his rider around for nearly two miles. PRACTICAL JOKE also seemed to get a bit aggressive on occasion the past two mornings, with the added commotion of a more crowded racetrack and busy grandstand perhaps fueling the fires just a bit. Overall, he’s had an excellent week but must deal with an unlucky post for the Derby.

IRAP schooled in the starting gate for a second straight day, and after appearing quite unsettled back there on Wednesday, he had no apparent issues the second time around.