Laurel Park-Based Contenders Join Derby Trail — by John Piassek

Laurel Park-Based El Areeb and Irish War Cry Join Derby Trail

by John Piassek

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Whenever people think of where top three-year-olds are based, Laurel Park usually does not come to mind. While the track has quickly established itself as the mid-Atlantic’s premier racing venue, and they have a steady three-year-old stakes program, it’s unusual to see a top-class horse emerge from Maryland. Yet, 2017 has seen not one, but two legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders: Graham Motion’s Irish War Cry, and Cathal Lynch’s El Areeb.

El Areeb gained national prominence first, with an overwhelming score in the James Lewis Stakes at Laurel on November 19. Sent off as the 2/1 favorite after breaking his maiden four weeks prior, he won by 5 1/4 lengths in a rapid 1:09.96 for six furlongs:

Despite the impressive score, he had his doubters prior to the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on January 2. He was once again sent away as the second favorite, while the more establishment-like Derby contender, Takaful, was the even-money choice. As it turned out, El Areeb was even more impressive in New York, blowing away his opponents by eleven lengths in a “splashtastic” victory.

The gray colt remains based at Laurel Park, and will take the New York-based route to the Derby, with prospective starts in the Withers Stakes, Gotham Stakes, and Wood Memorial on the schedule. Last Friday, he had his first workout since the Jerome, going four furlongs in 50 seconds at Laurel. Lynch, a well-established name in the Maryland racing scene, told theracingbiz that El Areeb is “probably the best horse I’ve trained in 20 years”.

Irish War Cry hasn’t ascended to national prominence the same way El Areeb has, but he’s got a very interesting story. He’s a New Jersey-bred, hailing from a state that has not produced a Kentucky Derby winner in 83 years. His breeder, Isabelle de Tomaso, is the daughter of Amory Haskell, the man who founded the modern Monmouth Park back in 1946. Even though he was bred in Jersey, don’t think he doesn’t have a strong pedigree. His sire is Curlin, the first North American-bred horse to earn more than $10 million on the track. The dam, Irish Sovereign, has six winners from six foals dropped.

Irish War Cry turned heads in his debut at Laurel on November 11, when he broke from the far outside post 12. He dropped all the way back to ninth place at one point, but made a bold wide move on the turn and won going away. Off that debut, he was sent off as the 1/5 favorite in the Marylander Stakes at Laurel on December 31. He had to fight to win it, but prevailed by a nose, going seven furlongs in a very solid 1:22.70 seconds.

Motion’s horse will be taking the warmer path to Kentucky. About a week ago, Motion sent Irish War Cry down to Florida, where he’ll prepare for his shot at Kentucky Derby glory. He hasn’t had a workout since going south, but it would be no surprise to see Irish War Cry in the Holy Bull Stakes or the Fountain of Youth Stakes.

Both horses are getting respect in the Kentucky Derby future pools in Las Vegas. Irish War Cry opened at 125/1 originally, but has gone down to 25/1, with many future bettors respecting his pedigree and trainer. El Areeb remains a bargain at 100/1; should he win his next Derby prep, those odds will likely plummet.

Regardless of if Derby roses are in their future or not, it’s very exciting to see two Laurel-based horses hitting the Derby trail. Here’s hoping to two great three-year-old campaigns, plenty of exciting wins, and great exposure for Maryland racing.IMG_1925

Irish War Cry (inside) battles it out to victory in the Marylander Stakes at Laurel Park, Saturday, December 31, 2016. Photo courtesy Dottie Miller.

Featured photo: Irish War Cry walks back to the winner’s circle after winning the Marylander Stakes, Saturday, December 31, 2016. Photo courtesy Dottie Miller.

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