Things didn't go Irish War Cry's way in the Haskell Invitational, and he finished fourth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths. He bounced out of the race well, though, and trainer Graham Motion has worked him four times in preparation for the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby next Saturday at Parx Racing.
The Sept. 23 card at Parx also includes the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, and three other stakes. Bob Baffert is expected to have the favorites for the main events: Travers winner West Coast for the derby and Abel Tasman, who has won three consecutive Grade 1's, for the Cotillion.
Irish War Cry broke alertly from the rail in the Haskell, but got caught up in a difficult pace scenario when Battle of Midway in post 2 and Timeline in post 3 both got away a step slowly. Battle of Midway moved up inside Irish War Cry to set the pace on a short lead, while Timeline became headstrong and split those two horses nearing the backstretch.
Irish War Cry settled off the front-runners through a half-mile in 47.34, challenged three wide on the far turn, but was outfinished by Girvin, McCraken, and Practical Joke. Timeline finished fifth, three lengths behind Irish War Cry, and Battle of Midway ended up sixth, another half-length back.
"I don't want to make too many excuses for him in the Haskell, but I do not think it was the ideal setup," Motion said.
Irish War Cry, who won the Wood Memorial in April, came into the Haskell off a sharp runner-up effort in the Belmont Stakes. Motion liked Irish War Cry's six-furlong workout Monday over the dirt track at Fair Hill.
"I'm as happy with him, even happier, than I have been going into any of his races," Motion said. "He worked on his own Monday, which we don't often do with him, and he went well, which I take as a sign of maturity."
In addition to Irish War Cry and West Coast, the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby lineup is expected to include Battle of Midway, Timeline, Talk Logistics, and one of Todd Pletcher's four nominees to the race.
Trainer Doug O'Neill said Tuesday he is tentatively planning to start both Travers third-place finisher Irap and impressive Smarty Jones winner Pavel, who are both currently stabled at Parx and scheduled to work this weekend.
If O'Neill decides to split them up, one could start against older horses in a race such as the Oct. 7 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park or the Sept. 30 Awesome Again at Santa Anita.
Abel Tasman, who in her last three starts has won the Coaching Club American Oaks, Acorn, and Kentucky Oaks, is expected to face It Tiz Well and Salty, the second- and third-place finishers in the Alabama, as well as Actress, Mopotism, and Teresa Z.