With Mystery Solved, Irish War Cry Romps in Pimlico Special

By Bill Finley

   The pattern kept repeating itself, good race, bad race, good race, bad race. Trainer Graham Motion knew that his New Jersey-bred star Irish War Cry had plenty of talent but he didn’t know why that talent often didn’t show up.

   But when the field lined up on a wet, miserable day at Pimlico for the May 18 Pimlico Special Motion was more confident than he had been in some time. It wasn’t just that Irish War Cry had been training well and was, on his good days, the best horse in the field. It was that Motion believed he had finally figured out why his 4-year-old was so erratic. Irish War Cry is a horse who has suffered from “thumps,” which is irregular spasming of the diaphragm and is caused by dehydration and the resulting loss of electrolyte levels. On a hot day, it can be a serious problem.

   It was 65 degrees at the start of the Pimlico Special, not nearly hot enough for the thumps issue to seriously hinder Irish War Cry’s performance. Motion believed the real Irish War Cry would show up under those conditions.

   He was right.

   The chestnut owned by Isabelle de Tomaso has never looked better than he did in the Pimlico Special. Ridden by Jose Ortiz, he led every step of the way and won the $300,000 Grade III race by 4 ½ lengths.

   “It was a huge relief,” Motion said. “I was confident because of what I was seeing in the morning, but I certainly wasn’t exuding confidence because I have been let down with him before.  I’m so relieved that everyone else got to see the real horse and what he’s capable of doing. I realize he has to put two good races together to overcome the doubters, but I feel like we are one step closer to doing that.”

   Irish War Cry was coming off the worst race of his career. As the 9-5 favorite in the Gulfstream Park Mile on March 31 he finished last of six and was beaten 29 ½ lengths. But this time Motion didn’t have to scratch his head in an attempt come up with answer for what had gone wrong.

   “After he ran so poorly in that race at Gulfstream, we figured out that he had a condition called the thumps,” Motion said. “It is an electrolyte imbalance.  It’s really brought on by running in hot weather and the Lasix accentuates it. We were fortunate that we got a cool day for the Pimlico Special and we reduced his Lasix dosage significantly.  I think this had been a problem before. It probably explains his poor performance in the (2017) Fountain of Youth (where Irish War Cry was seventh, beaten 21 3/4 lengths). I think it’s more than the horse doesn’t want to do it. On this day we got to see the real Irish War Cry.”

   Motion said he had an inkling before that hot weather was a problem for his horse, but said it became obvious after the latest Gulfstream race.

  “Physically, it was so noticeable that day,” he said.  “Literally, their side heaves. My vet picked up on it right away when we got him back to the barn. We had picked up on it to a degree before but it was never as exaggerated as it was that time.

  “I really felt bad for the horse. It has to be an extremely disturbing thing to be running when you can’t catch your breath. I was hoping it hadn’t put him off. A horse could really be put off from something like and just not want to run anymore.”

   Though Irish War Cry has won for the first time in 2018 and Motion now has his explanation for the clunkers, the thumps condition is still a problem. Summer is almost here and Motion knows he’ll be better off if he can avoid running the colt in hot weather. For that reason, he is pointing Irish War Cry toward the June 16 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. The key is that the race is run at night.

  “The race is in June and it could be a really hot day, but I think with the race being at night that gives us our best shot to find cooler conditions for him through the summer,” Motion explained. 

   The plan after the Foster would be to skip the remainder of the summer and then point for the Breeders’ Cup, with one prep beforehand, perhaps in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. By racing in the fall in New York and then in November in Kentucky at Churchill Downs, Irish War Cry will likely wind up racing on two temperate afternoons.

  Motion’s schedule will give Irish War Cry three more chances to win a Grade I race, something that has eluded him. The trainer would, for obvious reasons, like to see his horse win at the sport’s highest level. And he believes that he has the talent to do so.

  “It’s a shame that he won the Wood Memorial the first year after they downgraded it from a grade I,” Motion said. “In that respect, I feel he’s been a little unlucky to have not won a grade I.  But if he can duplicate his race from the Pimlico Special he’s more than capable of winning a grade I.  I’ve always said he’s as good a horse in the mornings as any horse I’ve ever had, barring, perhaps, Animal Kingdom. He’s super impressive in the mornings. I’ve always had that much confidence in him.”