LEXINGTON, KY – Reddam Racing’s Irap became the first maiden to ever win the Grade 2, $1 million Toyota Blue Grass for 3-year-olds on Saturday, holding off Practical Joke by 3/4 of a length.
Trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Julien Leparoux, Irap covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:50.39 in the 93rd running of the race. It was the second victory in the race for Leparoux, who won the race in 2013 with Java’s War.
The victory was worth $600,000 to Irap, a Keeneland sales graduate, and also gave him 100 points toward the $2 million Kentucky Derby, to be run on May 6 at Churchill Downs. Irap has 113 total points, guaranteeing him a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. Starting spots are limited to the top 20 point-earners that pass the entry box.
Out of the gate, Wild Shot took the lead and set fractions of :23.79 and :48.34, with Irap in closest pursuit.
On the turn, Irap took over and opened a slight advantage when Practical Joke made his first move. However, through the stretch, Irap never wavered, holding off the two-time Grade 1 winner. Favored and previously-undefeated McCraken was another 3 lengths back in third and 2 1/2 lengths in front of J Boys Echo. Tapwrit finished fifth, with It’s Your Nickel sixth and Wild Shot seventh.
Practical Joke picked up 40 Kentucky Derby points to give him 74, McCraken doubled his total from 20 to 40, and J Boys Echo added 10 points to give him 63.
Irap is a Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow out of the Storm Cat mare Silken Cat. Twice placed in graded stakes prior to his victory, Irap increased his earnings to $772,600 with a record of 8-1-3-1.
Irap returned $64.60, $22.40, and $6.80. Practical Joke, ridden by Joel Rosario, brought back $5.60 and $3.20, while McCraken, ridden by Brian Hernandez, Jr., paid $2.40 to show.
Owner J. Paul Reddam, Irap: “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 1/8 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 a fantastic feeling when you don’t think you are going to (win).”
Trainer Doug O’Neill, Irap: “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.”
Assistant trainer Jack Sisterson, 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.”
Jockey Julien Leparoux, 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 1/2-mile pole. He said, if a horse came up to him, he might (pull back) back a little.
“I felt confident (in the stretch) , 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.”
Jockey Joel Rosario, 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.”
Trainer Chad Brown, 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.”
Jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., 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.”
Jockey Robby Albarado, J Boys Echo: “He got bumped around some, but he ran a decent race.”
Trainer Dale Romans, J Boys Echo: “I thought we’d win the race, but he ran a credible race. You can go back in history and look at horses that run third or fourth in this race and come back and do well.”
On whether this performance sets J Boys Echo up for the Kentucky Derby: “I was hoping he would move forward off the other (last) race (when he won the Gotham). We’re gonna go. He’s a good horse, and we’ll see what happens. Twenty horses in a 1 1/4-mile race; a lot of stuff can go right.”
Jockey Jose Ortiz, Tapwrit: “He broke well, maybe a step behind. Going into the first turn, I was in a good spot behind Rosario (on Practical Joke), so I tried to follow him the whole way. When I tried to keep up with a 1/2-mile remaining, I didn’t have too much horse. I don’t think he liked the track too much. When I hit the backside, I was kind of nervous already.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher, Tapwrit: “He seemed to run kind of flat. I thought he saddled beautifully and behaved really well in the post parade and the gate. He had his head in the air a little bit and missed the break a touch. Then, he got stuck four or five wide all the way around there. It seemed like he struggled with the race track a little bit. He just ran kind of evenly and flat the whole way.”
On whether Tapwrit will continue to the Kentucky Derby: “We’ll see how he comes out of it and talk to everyone, but we feel like he’s that caliber of horse. As long as we don’t find any major reasons (not to), we’ll certainly take him to Churchill (Downs) and see how he trains there.”
Trainer Kenny McPeek, It’s Your Nickel: “You don’t know ‘til you try. We were the second-longest shot on the board, and the longest shot won it. My horse is a nice horse. We’re probably going to go a little more conservative with him, and at least we know. We didn’t fail. We learned.”
Jockey Corey Lanerie, Wild Shot: “My horse broke well, and the plans were, if we didn’t see a lot of speed in the race, to try and go to the front, and if somebody beat us to it, then it was fine to sit off of it. I was loving my trip to the 1/2-mile pole, I thought I had a lot of horse, and when the eventual winner (Irap) came to me, I thought, ‘Oh, not this early.’ I thought it was a little early, but he won the race, so he made the right move. I didn’t have enough to go on with him, but he (Wild Shot) will come back and run another race. He’s a good horse.”