Fittingly for a perennial battleground state in politics, Saturday’s $500,000 Ohio Derby (G3) came down to the Thistledown wire with Reddam Racing’s Irap outdueling 4-5 favorite Girvin by a whisker.
And reminiscent of waiting for those late returns to sway a razor-thin margin on election night, there was suspense until the winner of the photo-finish was announced. Adding to the uncertainty was a stewards’ inquiry into the stretch drive, in which Girvin drifted out and bumped Irap. Had Girvin stayed in front, the stewards would have to make a judgment call. But Irap got up anyway, and the width of his flared nostril clinched the decision on the track and in the stewards’ room.
Both colts were rebounding from subpar efforts in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and third-placer Untrapped rounded out the trifecta of sophomores last seen unplaced in the Run for the Roses.
Irap, who broke his maiden in the Blue Grass (G2) two starts back, is now two-for-two with Julien Leparoux in the saddle. Trained by Doug O’Neill, the Santa Anita shipper was sent off as the 5-2 second choice here. The Tiznow colt was well placed early just a couple of lengths off the contested pace.
Girvin, the Louisiana Derby (G2) winner, was forwardly placed as yet another Kentucky Derby also-ran, Fast and Accurate, set fractions of :23.06 and :48.04 on the fast track. When Fast and Accurate beat a quick retreat, Girvin seized the advantage at the three-quarter mark in 1:12.60.
But the odds-on favorite was flanked by two of the Loooch Racing Stable entrymates. Although Girvin soon dispatched pace foe Vibe to his inside, he was still hounded by Game Over entering the stretch. Girvin put him away too and edged clear at the eighth-pole.
By that point, Leparoux had gotten Irap stoked up, and he rallied to confront Girvin. Despite being in the firing line for some way, Girvin dug in gamely. Yet his exertions were telling as he began to labor. Unable to maintain a true line, a tiring Girvin came out. He appeared to be holding Irap by a desperate head, but in the last instant Irap forced his nose down. After negotiating 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.48, Irap returned $7.60 to win.
Untrapped made belated progress to take third, 4 1/4 lengths adrift of the top pair. Sorry Erik, a former stablemate of Irap’s who was claimed by Big Chief Racing and trainer Keith Desormeaux, completed the superfecta. Game Over fared best of the Loooch interests in fifth, followed by Hinton, Loooch entrymates Talk Less and Vibe, and Fast and Accurate.
Now a millionaire with earnings of $1,072,600 from a 10-2-3-1 line, Irap had been racking up stakes placings as a maiden. He was second to now-retired Mastery in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), and finished runner-up in both the Robert B. Lewis (G3) and Mine That Bird Derby before a fourth in the Sunland Derby (G3). He experimented with blinkers in the Lewis and Sunland, but ditched them for his 31-1 upset in the Blue Grass. Among those encountering trouble in the Kentucky Derby, Irap folded to 18th in the slop. He reportedly was sporting blinkers in the warm-up at Thistledown, but the headgear was removed pre-race (as Ron Flatter commented on Twitter).
Bred by Marie and the late Aaron Jones in Kentucky, Irap is a half-brother to champion sprinter and leading sire Speightstown (by Gone West). Their dam, the Storm Cat mare Silken Cat, was Canada’s champion two-year-old filly of 1995.
Irap RNA’d for $140,000 at Keeneland September, but a private purchase was worked out. Ironically, he was snapped up by Bobby Dodd as a pinhook prospect for Brad Grady – the same team behind Girvin. While Girvin was retained by Grady after a twist of fortune, Irap was sold to his current connections for $300,000 at OBS March.
Thus the Ohio Derby wasn’t just a rematch of Derby alumni, but also of former “classmates” from Grady’s Grand Oaks.
Quotes from Thistledown
Winning rider Julien Leparoux: “He broke good and we had good position. I was a little farther back in the first turn (than expected) but I was right behind Mike Smith (on Girvin), and I knew that was the right horse to follow. He’s the kind of horse you have to ask pretty early, because he has that long, long stride, so I was able to get him going early and got there on time. I didn’t know that I’d won, it was so close.”
Winning trainer Doug O’Neill (via phone): “I’m sitting here right now with the Reddams. We watched it together. There were some anxious moments because he got in a little traffic, but about the half-mile pole it kind of cleared out and Julien had him in good position and came running with him. It was so close – it could have gone either way.
“There’s talk about bringing him home to California, there’s talk about the Indiana Derby (G2) – we’ll see how he comes out of it in the morning and put our heads together and come up with a plan.”