The season’s first major upset in the ranks of America’s Classic generation occurred when Classic Empire suffered a comprehensive defeat inflicted by Irish War Cry in Saturday’s G2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Florida.
All indications are that last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner was not at his best for this important early clash, which only makes the long road to Churchill Downs in May all the more intriguing – and there are certain to be even more twists to the Kentucky Derby story in the weeks ahead.
Godolphin trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who saddled fifth home Cavil, believes it is an open year for the American three-year-olds. No stand-outs, just solid, top grade contenders.
“Irish War Cry is a nice horse, a good-looking son of Curlin, and he won well,” McLaughlin reported. “But I don’t think that performance took him to the top of the group. In my opinion, it took him more into the top five contenders,” he said.
The trainer said he was disappointed by Cavil’s run. “But, we’ll regroup, and he’ll have a run back in a month.”
Irish War Cry kept the pressure on his rivals for much of the journey in the Holy Bull. His trainer Graham Motion, is now likely to keep his Derby aspirant in Florida for the next two stepping stones to his major target.
Motion, famous for his handling of Animal Kingdom, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2012 Dubai World Cup, is considering the G2 Fountain Of Youth Stakes on March 4 and the G1 Florida Derby on April 1 for Irish War Cry.
Classic Empire won his Breeders’ Cup race with authority last November. Trainer Mark Casse offered no excuse for the colt’s first defeat, but it is likely to prompt some adventurous campaigning now in an attempt to regain the three-year-old’s former status.
“She was a little green, and she was squeezed early in the race, but she will improve a lot for that. She will have one more race before shipping to Keeneland,” McLaughlin said.