Irish War Cry's Kentucky Derby hopes sank almost as quickly as they rose.
Coming off a winning performance in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, beating 2016's 2-year-old champion, Classic Empire, Irish War Cry entered the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream and finished a dismal seventh.
"[The Holy Bull] was kind of a took-your-breath-away performance and kind of got you in the mode of thinking Derby," says H. Graham Motion, Irish War Cry's Elkton-based trainer. "And then it was wiped away pretty quickly a month later with the Fountain of Youth, which was a disaster."
He's able to chuckle about it now after seeing the way Irish War Cry bounced back in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct last April, stalking the lead at the start, driving ahead on the backstretch, and finding that extra gear before the finish line to close out another victory.
The 3-year-old son of Curlin, winner of the Preakness and Breeder's Cup Classic in 2007, and Irish Sovereign enters this year's Kentucky Derby as a top contender.
"Hopefully the Fountain of Youth was an aberration," says Motion. "My feeling is it was a really tricky track that day. It was a very windy weekend in Florida, the track dried out, and it was a very kind of cuppy surface that I don't think he cared for.
"And he probably laid too close to a very honest pace that day," he continues. "And he also probably regressed a little bit off his Holy Bull. So I think it was kind of a perfect storm and I'm hoping it's a race we can just put a line through, because he certainly showed himself in the Wood Memorial."
The colt got his start here in Maryland, running his 2-year-old season at Laurel Park and winning twice in two tries, including the $100,000 Marylander Stakes.
And he's back in Maryland now, getting in his last workouts at Fair Hill, where Motion has two barns. The trainer says his horse looks strong coming off the Wood Memorial.
"I couldn't be happier with him," he says. "I'm glad I have him here at Fair Hill and feel very comfortable having him here. And I think likewise, he is. I think he's familiar with being here and a bit more relaxed."
The plan is for Irish War Cry to ship to Churchill Downs early Monday. As is the case every year, there will be plenty of crowds and cameras around all the stalls with the contending horses, but Motion sees a calm demeanor similiar to that of his previous Derby winner, Animal Kingdom.
"He just took things in stride," he says. "And this horse is very similar in that respect, he handles things very well."
As for Motion, he'll be able to draw on that experience from 2011.
"I'd like to think that hopefully I'm a little bit more relaxed about it, just because I have been fortunate to have been there and won the race," he says. "So I don't feel quite the same pressure, maybe, this time around.
"And I guess having had the experience, you do know a little bit about what you're in for," he continues. "I hope those things will sort of help me through it."