Overlooked at 31-1, Irap surged clear in upper stretch and withstood the late charge of Practical Joke to prevail by three-quarters of a length in the $1 million Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland. The 1 1/8-mile event shaped up to be the deepest of the Kentucky Derby preps, with a quartet of top 10 contenders among the seven runners, but Irap wasn’t highly-rated with a 0-for-7 record entering the race.
In front of a crowd of 32,610, the Doug O’Neill-trained son of Tiznow broke his maiden to the bewilderment of most observers. He was exiting a well-beaten fourth in the March 26 Sunland Derby (G3) but Irap had finished second in three previous stakes attempts including the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) in his juvenile finale.
Julien Leparoux picked up the mount. With the $600,000 payday, the Reddam Racing-owned colt increased his bankroll to $772,600 from an 8-1-3-1 line.
Practical Joke, a multiple Grade 1-winning juvenile, had to settle for runner-up honors for the second straight time after opening 2017 in the March 4 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park. Off as the 7-2 third choice, he picked up 40 points to stamp his Kentucky Derby ticket.
McCraken sustained his first career setback but likely guaranteed himself a Kentucky Derby berth with the third-place outing, increasing his point total to 40. The even-money favorite was a little rank during the early stages while under a strong hold from Brian Hernandez and rallied wide off the far turn to loom a menacing factor in upper stretch before flattening out in the final furlong, winding up three lengths back of Practical Joke.
It was another 2 ½ lengths to Gotham (G3) winner J Boys Echo in fourth. Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Tapwrit never fired from off the pace as the 2-1 second choice, finishing 11 ½ lengths behind Irap in fifth.
Wild Shot sped forward to show the way early while being closely chased by Irap through opening splits in :23.79 and :48.34. Irap advanced to take the lead nearing the completion of the far turn and entered the stretch full of run, reaching the eighth pole with a 1 ½-length advantage. It got a little tight late but the winner kept finding more to the wire, finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.39.
Bred in Kentucky by Aaron and Marie Jones, Irap was purchased for $300,000 at the 2016 OBS March 2-year-old sale. Out of the stakes-winning Storm Cat mare Silken Cat, he is a half-brother to champion sprinter and successful sire Speightstown.
Blue Grass quotes:
Paul Reddam (Owner; he and Doug O’Neill watched the race from Santa Anita.):
“(When the horses were coming down the stretch) We thought, ‘Oh this is looking good’ and then in the stretch when we saw he actually had a chance, we all just started yelling and screaming. It seemed like the wire was taking forever to get there. When he made the lead I thought that son of a gun is going to hit the board here. Then, about the eighth pole I was thinking man we have a chance to win here because McCraken had backed out of it and a couple other horses didn’t fire for whatever reason. I really have got to say (trainer) Doug (O’Neill) did a fantastic job – he and his team. It’s just fantastic feeling when you don’t think you are going to (win).”
Doug O’Neill (winning trainer):
“He’s a son of Tiznow, and he has a ton of ability. The fact he was still a maiden was kind of unfortunate, but he’s always been a talented horse. (Jockey) Julien (Leparoux) gave him a great ride. Unbelievable.”
On whether Irap is continuing to the Kentucky Derby-G1:
“That’s the plan. As long as he stays injury free, that will be our next move.”
Jack Sisterson (assistant to Doug O’Neill, winning trainer of Irap):
“A lot of credit to the Reddams. He (Irap) went to Sunland Park and didn’t run quite as well as we expected. Doug said, ‘This horse is better than this, so let’s send him to Keeneland.’ And sure enough, he showed up on the day.
“Julien (Leparoux) rode him perfect, and it worked out. You have to toy with this horse. He’s such a thinker. As a 2-year-old, he always showed talent. When Julien came to gallop him Wednesday, he said, ‘This is a nice horse.”
On Irap’s plans before the Kentucky Derby:
“He’ll obviously stay here at Keeneland like Nyquist did last year. (Keeneland was) really accommodating to us with Nyquist here. I really believe horses thrive here at Keeneland.”
Julien Leparoux (winning rider of Irap):
“It’s great (for a horse to break his maiden) in the Blue Grass. The plan was to be sitting second. He was very relaxed. We had the trip that we wanted. He (trainer Doug O’Neill) wanted me to start going at the half-mile pole. He said if a horse came up to him, he might (pull back) back a little.
“(In the stretch) I felt confident but I knew they were coming. He never gave up. I knew he was going to run good. He runs good every race. We talked and we had the perfect trip. It came to reality.”
Joel Rosario (rider of runner-up Practical Joke):
“It was nice where I was and he responded very well turning for home, but it was too tough to beat the horse on the lead. I thought for a second I was going to get him but the winner kept on fighting and had another gear.”
Chad Brown (trainer of Practical Joke):
“He showed a lot of heart. I was disappointed with the trip but that was due to the (outside) post. (Jockey) Joel (Rosario) really didn’t have a chance to tuck him in. The winner really ran a courageous race. He really ran fantastic and I thought my horse did, too. Post is so important and today even though it was a short field, it hurt us because he had to go wide. I am proud of his effort.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. (rider of third-place finisher and beaten favorite McCraken):
“We had a good trip. He (McCraken) ran his race, and it was a good third today. He ran with some well proven horses. We will just go on from here.”