Knock the king of the hill off his perch and it’s pretty easy to guess what happens next.
That’s the circumstance facing trainer Graham Motion as he prepares Irish War Cry to run in Saturday’s $400,000, Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
In his most recent race, the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 4 at Gulfstream, Irish War Cry dispatched 2-year-old champion Classic Empire with ease, running on the lead almost the entire way and winning the 1 1/16 -mile race by 3 3/4 lengths.
Now, several contenders are headed up the hill looking for their claim to fame on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
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“It’s going to be a little different this time. We didn’t have a target on our back last time. I couldn’t believe how comfortably he beat the 2-year-old champion. That was exciting,” Motion said in a Gulfstream Park news release. “This time … people will have expectations, as they should. I just would like to see him run a similar race.”
The Fountain of Youth is worth 50 points to the winner in the Kentucky Derby points system.
Top challengers to the unbeaten Irish War Cry — the 5-2 favorite — include Practical Joke (3-1), Gunnevera (7-2) and Beasley (6-1).
El Areeb a go for Gotham
Saturday’s $300,000, Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct is also worth 50 Kentucky Derby points to the winner and features only two winners of previous stakes races.
The favorite, at 6-5, is El Areeb, winner of four consecutive races including the Grade 3 Jerome and the Grade 3 Withers in his two most recent outings, both at Aqueduct. El Areeb, trained by Cathal Lynch, stands fourth in the Derby points standings with 20 already.
Lynch originally considered skipping the Gotham and moving on to the Wood Memorial, but the horse changed his mind.
“(He’s been) acting like he wants to go do something, so I didn’t know if I really felt like sitting on him for another four weeks if he’s going right,” Lynch told the NYRA.
Doug O’Neill’s So Conflated, scratched from last week’s Risen Star Stakes after drawing the outside post, is 8-1 in the Gotham. He won the California Derby at Golden Gate in his most recent start Jan. 21.
“He’s just mentally very tough, very competitive,” O’Neill told the NYRA. “He’s been very solid. We’re very excited about him.”
4:50 p.m.: Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct (TVG
6:05 p.m.: Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park (TVG)
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