02/05/2017 10:22AM

Irish War Cry's victory tweaks Kentucky Derby picture

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Claire Powell
Irish War Cry will likely next race in the March 4 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, trainer Graham Motion said.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The Kentucky Derby picture from these parts wasn’t exactly turned upside down Saturday when Irish War Cry led all the way to win the Holy Bull Stakes, but it sure got knocked sideways.

Classic Empire, the reigning divisional champion and 1-2 favorite, came up empty when finishing a distant third in the Grade 2, $350,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, thereby scrambling the pecking order of Derby contenders based in south Florida.

Trainer Graham Motion reported early Sunday that all was well with Irish War Cry, a New Jersey-bred colt who is now unbeaten in three career starts. Ridden by Joel Rosario, Irish War Cry took early command in the 1 1/16-mile race and was never seriously threatened thereafter, winning by 3 3/4 lengths and earning a 97 Beyer Speed Figure as the 4-1 third choice in a field of seven 3-year-olds.

Gunnevera, the 3-1 second choice, overcame a spot of trouble leaving the final turn to be second, another five lengths before Classic Empire.

Motion, who won the 2011 Derby with Animal Kingdom, said he will map out a race schedule for Irish War Cry with the colt’s owner-breeder Isabelle de Tomaso, a daughter of legendary Monmouth Park founder Amory Haskell. Motion indicated the March 4 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream is the most likely next race.

Meanwhile, Mark Casse was scratching his head Sunday morning in the aftermath of the Classic Empire clunker. The colt was making his first start since clinching an Eclipse Award by winning the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“He didn’t handle anything very good yesterday,” Casse said. “He’s a really smart horse, and he’s performed in front of big crowds before and all that. But he didn’t handle it from the start. He was upset on the van on the ride down (from the Palm Meadows training center), and of course he got upset in the paddock and post parade and acted like he didn’t want to go in the gate. He was just irritated all day. Even Julien said he just kind of didn’t have the horse under him he usually does,” referring to jockey Julien Leparoux. ”Obviously we didn’t see the real Classic Empire yesterday.”

Casse said because Classic Empire appeared to be struggling over the Gulfstream surface, “it’s more likely than not” that the colt will make his next start at a different track. A multitude of Derby prep races are available in the coming weeks.

“The thing is, he’s fine this morning,” Casse said. “He looks great and he’s happy. But hey, this is horse racing. It’s why I never take anything for granted. When I do, it bites me right on the rear end.”

The next Florida prep for the May 6 Kentucky Derby will come next Saturday, when the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis is run on the other side of the peninsula at Tampa Bay Downs. McCraken looms a solid favorite in a field also expected to include Wild Shot, Fact Finding, No Dozing, and Chance of Luck. Entries will be taken Wednesday.

After being left off the schedule the last three years, the Davis carries points value (10-4-2-1) toward Derby eligibility for the first time since 2013, the first year Churchill began using the points system.