Why I like Irish War Cry in the Belmont | Dick Jerardi

THE TUESDAY after the Kentucky Derby, I got a text from a Baltimore friend who loves to bet horses. It read: Classic-Cloud Computing box.

He was talking about the Preakness and an exacta box of Classic Empire and Cloud Computing. He did not like Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming because of his dream trip on what turned out to be a very live rail at Churchill Downs.

The night of the Preakness, he texted me a copy of his $200 2-5 exacta box, the ticket costing $400 and worth $9,840. He also bet $200 to win on Preakness winner Cloud Computing, and got back $2,880. He missed on his trifectas and superfectas but still had nearly a $12,000 profit on the race.

I considered what he said, but just was not quite sharp enough to act on it. I thought the rail was an edge in the Derby, but was not positive. Now, after Always Dreaming ran so poorly, I am a lot closer to positive.

So, as we consider Saturday's Belmont Stakes without Always Dreaming and the 1-2 horses in the Preakness, we must consider it with that Derby evidence as a critical part of our evaluation.

Look at this way: Imagine two runners of equal ability in the same race, one running on an Olympic track, the other next to him on sand. Obviously, the runner on sand has no chance. Well, that is what it is like for horses running on the wrong part of a racetrack.

I liked Irish War Cry in the Derby. On the far turn, when jockey Rajiv Maragh looked under his shoulder, that was the universal signal that he was not worried about the horses in front of him, including Always Dreaming. I thought I had the winner. Then, Irish War Cry faded badly in the stretch.

You can't be shocked by anything you see at the track, but this was at least surprising - good horse, great trainer, perfect trip and then nothing.

Trainer Graham Motion admitted to being perplexed. Not as confident as my friend, I needed to see the Preakness to be sure. When Always Dreaming ran so poorly and Classic Empire, wide all the way in the Derby, ran so well, I was convinced.

Horses on or near the rail in the Derby were aided by what was coined as a "track bias" in the 1970s. Horses who were wide all the way were inhibited. They were running on "sand."

Irish War Cry was one of those horses who was wide the entire trip. That, to me, is what explains his poor finish.

Motion's immediate reaction was to get Irish War Cry off the Triple Crown trail and await the Haskell this summer at Monmouth Park. He began to change his mind after watching the Preakness and seeing how his horse trained. Last weekend, Motion made the decision: Irish War Cry to the Belmont Stakes.

And when the unfortunate Classic Empire came down with that foot abscess Wednesday morning, Motion suddenly had the morning-line favorite for the Belmont.

When he runs to his best form, Irish War Cry is the fastest horse in this race. He is also one of just a few horses with early speed, so he also has a tactical advantage. The mile-and-a-half marathon is always an unknown, but my theory is that if all the horses are tiring badly in the stretch, I would rather have the horses that are already in front rather than those trying to get there.

So I am back with Irish War Cry but recognize that he is no cinch, not in a race with four other horses who have been resting since running off the board in the Derby.

Of those, Tapwrit looks the most dangerous. Trainer Todd Pletcher has solved the Belmont puzzle with the Derby-to-Belmont move. Tapwrit started right next to Irish War Cry and was one of several victims when IWC took a left turn out of the gate. That Tapwrit was able to pass so many horses and finish sixth suggests he would have been a lot closer if not for getting crushed at the start. I watched his Derby closely several times. He was off the rail until the final few hundred yards when he ended up close to the rail, so the colt was at a disadvantage for much of the race and then had an edge late, the same edge Lookin At Lee rode to finish second.

Senior Investment does not have a "move," but the colt is relentless, exactly the kind of style that works in Belmont Stakes tris.

So make it Irish War Cry-Tapwrit-Senior Investment. And be assured if that comes in, I will be sending a copy of my ticket to my friend in Baltimore.

jerardd@phillynews.com

@DickJerardi