04/08/2017 8:05PM

Irap secures elusive first career victory in Blue Grass Stakes

Coady Photography
Irap, who came into the Blue Grass as a maiden, pays $64.60 for his upset win under Julien Leparoux.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby took yet another bizarre twist Saturday when Irap, previously a maiden, posted a 31-1 upset in the 93rd running of the Grade 2, $1 million Blue Grass Stakes, the annual spring showcase at Keeneland.

Irap was sent away the second-longest shot in a field of seven 3-year-olds before forcing all the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass. With Julien Leparoux aboard, Irap, a son of Tiznow, turned back a sustained stretch run from Practical Joke, prevailing by three-quarters of a length and returning $64.60.

“We had the perfect trip,” said Leparoux. “We were hoping for that trip. It worked out great today.”

The victory gives owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill – both of whom watched the Blue Grass from Santa Anita – another crack at the Kentucky Derby, which they teamed to win in 2012 with I’ll Have Another and last year with Nyquist.

Practical Joke finished three lengths ahead of third-finisher McCraken, who incurred his first defeat in five career starts as the 8-5 favorite. J Boys Echo was another 2 1/2 lengths back in fourth and was followed in order by Tapwrit, It’s Your Nickel, and Wild Shot.

Irap finished in 1:50.39 over a fast track on fractions of 23.79 seconds, 48.34, and 1:12.36.

With 170 qualifying distributed among them, including 100 to Irap, the top four finishers all have a sufficient number of points to proceed to the 143rd Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs, although trainer Chad Brown was non-committal about whether Practical Joke, owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence, would head that way.

“I’ll have to talk it over with the owners,” said Brown.

Ian Wilkes, trainer of McCraken, said he was very satisfied with the effort extended by his stable star. The colt was the lukewarm favorite in the fourth and final Derby futures pool held March 31-April 2.

“What’s wrong?” said Wilkes. “I got the monkey off my back. The horse never quit today. He faced adversity and the race toughened him up a little. He came back blowing today. Now we’ve got a good race under him. He showed character and he showed fight, which is what we wanted to see.”

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Said Dale Romans, trainer of J Boys Echo: “We’re going. He ran a solid race. A lot can happen with 20 horses in the Derby.”

Tapwrit, the 2-1 second choice, was the biggest disappointment when failing to menace and finishing 11 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Still, he and all the other logical Blue Grass favorites were overshadowed on this sunny afternoon by Irap, a bay colt who had failed to win in seven previous starts. On three prior occasions, he had finished second, including in the Robert Lewis and Mine That Bird Derby. His most recent start had resulted in a fourth-place finish in the Sunland Derby in New Mexico.

Sent away from post 6 in the Blue Grass, Irap shadowed the early front-runner, Wild Shot, before putting him away in the final turn. On an open lead past the quarter pole, he then was challenged from the outside by Practical Joke and jockey Joel Rosario, who were hung wide on both turns.

“That really hurt us,” Brown said of the trip for Practical Joke. “Take nothing away from the winner, though. He ran a great race, and so did our horse.”

Down the stretch, Leparoux and Rosario put their mounts to fierce drives, with Irap refusing to let Practical Joke past him.

“I felt confident, but I knew the closer was coming,” said Leparoux. “It was a good race today. He never gave up.”

“A lot of credit to the Reddams,” said Jack Sisterson, a former assistant trainer who saddled Irap for O’Neill. “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 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!’”

Irap, bred in Kentucky by Aaron and Marie Jones, was a $300,000 purchase as a 2-year-old in March 2016 at Ocala. He had raced with blinkers in two of his three prior starts but had them removed again for the Blue Grass.

The $2 exacta (6-7) paid $328.60, the $1 trifecta (6-7-2) returned $511.30, and the 10-cent superfecta (9-1-6-7-6) was worth $214.88.

A 50-cent pick five wager on all the graded stakes (9-1-6-7-6) was worth $64,103 for a perfect ticket. The pick five pool was $633,133.

On-track attendance was 32,610.

No Blue Grass winner has won the Derby since Strike the Gold in 1991. The last horse to compete in the Blue Grass and win the Derby was Street Sense in 2007. Those statistics were a primary reason the race was downgraded in December from its long-held Grade 1 status.

The win mutuel for Irap was the biggest since Stately Victor ($82.20) won the 2010 running over Polytrack. The win was the second in the race for Leparoux, following Java’s War in 2013.



JasmineTedesco 21 days ago
I ran slow in the Santa Anita Derby 5K and still beat the Bluegrass time. A maiden winning a GI only indicates that the field was weak.

Toss any horse from the Bluegrass in the Derby (as usual) and simplify your handicapping.
Chuck Seddio 21 days ago
i loved tapwrit going into this race and am mystified by his under performance , but as well as mckraken,so after mind bending i have to throw out any of the horses from the sammy d and the tampa bay derby . the santa anita derby was tooo slow and can't find any reason to like any of the fla horses. what is left?? this is such a bad group of 3 year olds ,any body say geronimo??
Scott 21 days ago
While it was surprising to Irap win it doesn't really change my mind about horses like McCraken, J Boys Echo and Tapwrit or Irap for that matter.

Irap - He had a dream trip on a day where the favorite probably needed the race and finished third.  He's not a Derby winner in my mind and I doubt he'll hit the board.
Practical Joke - One turn horse.
McCraken - I still love his chances in the Derby.  He needed this race and it's no coincidence he did just enough to get the points.
J Boys Echo - I never considered him a win candidate, but if he trains well going into the Derby, then I might consider him for the 3rd tier of my exotics.
Tapwrit - He was never a Derby win candidate in my mind, but this performance makes him a highly questionable inclusion in any exotic bet.
TEDK215 21 days ago
ya gotta love this game when u see horses like this win. keeps em guessing. should make for some big longies in the derby.
Joe . 22 days ago
I saw a mdn win the Arkansas Derby years ago.
Gunner 21 days ago
Valhol's "shocker."
John Smith 20 days ago
Valhol wasn't a shocker when the jockey was found using a buzzer that race
Anonymous 22 days ago
Irap was on the second or third string of West Coast Triple Crown horses. The Bluegrass is a Grade II. Maybe they were right in labeling it Grade II. McCraken and Tapwrit most likely are good Grade II horses, while Practical Joke may have distance limitations. The East coast based horses as in recent years do not seem to be as strong. The Derby may have many horses from East Coast trainers so one of them might win. But Irap was beaten 7 lengths by Mastery, a race in which Mastery held the lead wire to wire. The ones that rank the horses, based on these and a few other races should rank Mastery as the best three year old this year, whether or not he is in the Triple Crown races.
John Smith 22 days ago
I've said it before, I'll say it again....practical joke does not like to win. He can't pass leaders in the stretch 
Roy 22 days ago
Not sure about that. Just think he would be better around one turn.
John Smith 20 days ago
Well he's done the same thing around 1 turn and 2 turns
Thomas 22 days ago
This may have been the most fixed race ever,   Tapwrit was out for a workout,  in derby already,  J Echo in derby and never tried,  McCracken looking for top 3, just a workout,  so that meant i bet $4k on Practical joke to WPS, 500w, 1500p, 2k show, he was only horse who needed to prove anything to run in derby,  but the speed bias at Keeneland helped irap win literally crawling home the past quarter even though they went slow early.   Terrible fixed race. Why didn't any connections of tapwrit or j boys say their horse was just out for a workout ,  watch the race,  the jockd just went through the motions to prepare for the derby, watch leparoux on irap, he wanted to win,  whipped 30 times.  Wow, i won 3k and could still see why people accuse jockeys and trainers of race fixing. 
realgooddogtoo 22 days ago
I bet you didn't bet more than $ 5 across. 
Mark Phillips 21 days ago
Exactly, anyone telling us after the race what and how much they wagered is a fraud. 
Leslie Burke Fernandes 20 days ago
I bet $1.00 and hit the superfecta
Mario Borgo 22 days ago
Ernie Mcracken was a dud! The Derby is a free for all!
SebastianLubow 22 days ago
Lots of money to be made and lost in 4 weeks time. Only 2 horses have run on in a time to warrant consideration for the top honors so far: Hence and Always Dreaming. One derby left, the G1 Arkansas Derby, The horses that ran today are 2 slow to win Kentucky Derby.