The February 4 Holy Bull Stakes marked the beginning of champion Classic Empire’s three-year-old campaign as he attempted to begin his run and qualifications to be in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

Irish War Cry, a son of Curlin, was sent to the front early when the race began, with Classic Empire staying in third early on.

Irish War Cry began to draw away with a narrow margin over the Classic Empire and Talk Logistics just behind him, and looked like he was just waiting for the word to go. Classic Empire and Talk Logistics raced almost in perfect tandem at the half-mile pole and a bit beyond, but it became all Irish War Cry and Joel Rosario. Irish War Cry was full of power as he ran to the wire, finishing up with a lead of 3 ¾ lengths, and looking like he could have finished even further ahead.

Classic Empire briefly took second, before being overcome by Gunnevara to cross the wire in third place.

He was later found to have a foot abscess that was likely to have made him flatten out a bit and retreat from maintaining his second place position.

Irish War Cry certainly has put his name on the list of serious Derby contenders based on this victory, as the road to the first Saturday in May really gets underway. History shows, though, that with a narrow time frame until then that can be impacted by even minor training setbacks, injuries, or foot problems, it is too soon to say which top contenders at this juncture will still be top contenders in early May. This is not to knock Irish War Cry – he looked quite impressive to me in the Holy Bull. More to the point, especially considering the foot abscess, it is too soon to write off Classic Empire.

The Derby trail is always full of intrigue, twists and turns, horses vaulting into the picture or sliding down the ranks, and this year should be no different. I look forward to seeing where it all goes, as always. Hopefully Irish War Cry continues to progress well, and Classic Empire recovers well. It would be interesting to see those two meet again when both are completely in top form.