Will Irish War Cry win the Belmont tomorrow? He certainly has the credentials. Genetically he is a powerhouse. Researching my new book, Rivers of Gold, I discovered today’s champion Thoroughbreds, the world over, will find their ancestors in 4 distinct genetic streams. More significant, to me at least, is they all were found flowing across the Canadian landscape.
From magnificently-bred aristocrats like Nearctic (sire of Northern Dancer), to Bunty Lawless, horseracing’s version of a street fighter, to US blueblood mares brought to Canada to avoid conscription, the bedrock of these streams is composed of an interesting, if not eclectic, collection of remarkable horses.
Irish War Cry’s exceptional sire, Curlin, features mightily in the Rivers of Gold saga. And Irish War Cry’s dam, Irish Sovereign, a great, great Northern Dancer granddaughter, carries the tenacity of our Canadian hero.
I am, incidentally, not a great handicapper. On race days, back when I was editor of Canada’s horse racing magazine, people would ask me for my selections so they could eliminate those horses from their bets. I have, however, picked many winners. Or more accurately, they chose me. Often it happens in the walking ring prior to a race. Some horses are just that spectacular. I distinctly recall the afternoon I spotted the great mare, All Along. What an amazing athlete. She literally took my breath away. As did Nijinsky and Vice Regal and so many others.
Leading up to the 2017 Kentucky Derby, I was immediately taken with Irish War Cry. Besides winning the Wood Memorial by almost 6 lengths, to me he had the look of a winner. Yet the Kentucky Derby proved a bit of a disaster for any number of horses. Among them, Irish War Cry.
Starting for post 17, hence auxiliary gate, Irish War Cry broke poorly and ducked to the inside. Then he slid across the muddy track toward the rail. In the meantime, Thunder Snow took to bucking like a rodeo bronc. At one point his jockey, Christophe Soumillon, appeared to be at right angles to the saddle. How he managed to stay aboard is a miracle. Indeed, considering the condition of the track and use of the auxiliary gate, which appeared to propel horses toward the centre of the track, it is an even greater miracle there wasn’t a serious accident.
Needless to say, I am among those joining Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens, in calling for a limit of 14 horses in the Kentucky Derby, thus eliminating the need for the auxiliary gate.
Professional handicappers have chosen Irish War Cry to win. And while winning the 1-1/2 mile Belmont is no mean feat, Irish War Cry surely and the talent and the guts and the breeding to take him to the Winners’ Circle.