06/24/2017 7:28PM

Irap edges Girvin at wire in Ohio Derby

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JJ Zamaiko Photography
Irap, 2, and Julien Leparoux win the Ohio Derby on Saturday at Thistledown.

NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - The Grade 3, $500,000 Ohio Derby drew two colts who won Grade 2 races on the Kentucky Derby trail earlier this year, with standout riders to pilot them. Irap and Julien Leparoux caught Girvin and Mike Smith on the wire for the victory at Thistledown on Saturday.

Irap has now won two of his last three outings, both graded stakes scores, after going winless through the first seven starts of his career, although with two graded placings in that span.

The Tiznow colt, trained by Doug O'Neill for Reddam Racing, broke his maiden in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland under a cagey ride from Leparoux, shadowing the pace before pouncing with an early move and holding sway. But Irap and Mario Gutierrez - who picked up the mount for the Kentucky Derby with Leparoux committed to champion Classic Empire - finished 18th in Louisville, a victim of the annual melee at the break and then encountering traffic later.

Leparoux got back aboard Irap seven weeks later for the Ohio Derby, which also marked the return of Girvin, winner of the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, before finishing 13th in Kentucky under Smith.

Girvin sat a stalking second early as Fast and Accurate, winner of the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes on Turfway’s Polytrack this spring, led the field through a moderate opening half of 48.04 seconds. Meanwhile, Irap ($7.60) had been shuffled back to sixth after breaking from the inside post – not exactly the plan, although he was just over two lengths behind the leader in a bunched-up field.

“[O’Neill, by phone] said, ‘You know the horse, just remember that you have to ask him pretty early – around the half-mile pole, try to get going,' ” Leparoux said. “I said that I thought from the one hole, we had to get good position in the first turn. We wanted to break good and put him in a good position. We got a little bit farther back in the first turn, but I was right behind Mike Smith, so I knew that was the right horse to follow.”

Girvin assumed the lead approaching the end of the backstretch as Fast and Accurate backed out of contention, and briefly engaged with Vibe around the far turn. Meanwhile, Leparoux was patiently working Irap three wide for a clear run. Girvin turned back his challengers on the front end for a clear lead in the stretch, but Irap was now rolling, steadily cutting into the margin in the final stages, despite his foe drifting out slightly. The two hit the wire together, with Leparoux uncertain if he had gotten there.

“He has a long, long [stride], so I was able to get him out and get him going pretty early and get there on time,” Leparoux said. “Too close to call. I came out, and Mike came out a little bit.”

The final time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:50.48. The stewards briefly posted the inquiry sign after the race, but took no action.

After the top two, it was 4 1/4 lengths back to multiple graded stakes-placed Untrapped, who had finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby. The order of finish was completed by Sorry Erik, Game Over, Hinton, Talk Less, Vibe, and Fast and Accurate.