Favored McCraken Third
By Dick Downey
In the 93d running of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, Irap became the first maiden to win the storied race.
Winless in seven starts but with $172,600 in earnings and 13 Kentucky Derby points, Irap and Julien Leparoux sat in second early, overtook early pacesetter Wild Shot a little under six furlongs into the race, and held off Practical Joke to win the nine-furlong race at Keeneland in 1:50.39.
Wild Shot struck the early lead and cut out reasonable fractions of 23.79 and 48.34, but with six furlongs gone in 1:12.36, Irap held a one-length lead and Wild Shot was second by a length and about to fade badly. At that point, Practical Joke was only a half-length off of Wild Shot, McCraken was three lengths back of the lead, J Boys Echo was seventh but in touch with the field and Tapwrit was just in front of him.
To the amazement of fans and connections alike, the 31-1 Doug O'Neill trainee forgot to quit running and prevailed over Practical Joke by three parts of a length. McCraken's usual rally didn't materialize, and he fell short of Irap by 3 3/4 lengths. J Boys Echo finished fourth, beaten 6 1/4 lengths and was followed past the finish line by Tapwrit, It's Your Nickel and Wild Shot.
A subplot of the race began at the starting gate. McCraken broke outward at the start, J Boys Echo bobbled and was bumped leaving the gate, and Tapwrit was distracted and broke slowly as well. The Equibase chart states, "Start good for all but McCraken, J Boys Echo, Tapwrit."
The result was so unpredictable that Twitter lit up with exclamations.
But the replay showed the same result as the live broadcast. Irap had, however improbably, won the Blue Grass Stakes.
Irap had 13 Kentucky Derby points going into the Blue Grass and now has 113. Practical Joke was awarded 40 points, pushing his total to 74. McCraken, with 20 points before the Blue Grass, now has 40, and J Boys Echo, who had 53 points coming out of the Gotham, has 63.
The winner's share of the million-dollar purse of the Blue Grass is $600,000.
Folks who bet Irap were pleasantly surprised with a win payoff of $64.60. Place and show money was $22.40 and $6.80. McCraken was the 8-5 post-time favorite, and Tapwrit was 2-1.
Paul Reddam, who won the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with I'll Have Another and the 2016 Kentucky Derby with Nyquist, owns Irap in the name of his Reddam Racing LLC.
A half-brother to Sprint Champion Speightstown, Irap is by Tiznow and is out of Silken Cat, by Storm Cat. He was bred in Kentucky by Aaron and Marie Jones.
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. Julien gave him a great ride. Unbelievable. As long as he stays injury free, (the Kentucky Derby) will be our next move.”
O'Neill assistant trainer Jack Sisterson: “A lot of credit to the Reddams. He 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.
“He’ll obviously stay here at Keeneland like Nyquist did last year. They were really accommodating to us with Nyquist here. I really believe horses thrive here at Keeneland.”
Julien Leparoux, winning rider: “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 wanted me to start going at the half-mile pole. He said if a horse came up to him, he might 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.”
J. Paul Reddam, winning owner: "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 Doug did a fantastic job – he and his team. It’s just fantastic feeling when you don’t think you are going to.”
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. Joel 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.”
Joel Rosario, on board 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.”
Ian Wilkes, trainer of McCraken: Ceclined to comment immediately after the race.
Brian Hernandez Jr., on board McCraken: “We had a good trip. He ran his race, and it was a good third today. He ran with some well proven horses. We will just go on from here.”
Dale Romans, trainer of 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. I was hoping he would move forward off the other race. We’re gonna go. He’s a good horse, and we’ll see what happens. Twenty horses in a mile and a quarter race; a lot of stuff can go right.”
Robby Albarado, on board J Boys Echo: “He got bumped around some, but he ran a decent race.”
Todd Pletcher, trainer of 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.
“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, we'll certainly take him to Churchill and see how he trains there.”
Jose Ortiz, rider of 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 half-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.”
Ken McPeek, trainer of 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’e probably going to go a little more conservative with him, and at least we know. We didn’t fail. We learned.”
Corey Lanerie, rider of 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 half-mile pole, I thought I had a lot of horse, and when the eventual winner 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 will come back and run another race. He's a good horse.”