SHELBYVILLE, Ind. -- Irap felt more like a curiosity than a serious racehorse when in April, still a maiden after seven starts, he scored a 31-1 upset winning the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. But folks might start taking him seriously now.
Irap totally dominated a decent field Saturday night in the Grade 3, $500,000 Indiana Derby, blasting to the lead midway around the far turn and cruising through the homestretch, a solo act under the lights, on the way to a five-length victory. Irap paid $4.80 as the 7-5 favorite, but won like odds-on would've been a fair price.
"They still really didn't trust him, I think, but I'm gonna guess they trust him now," said winning owner Paul Reddam.
Reddam trusts Irap enough at this point that he said he plans to start Irap next in the Travers Stakes on Aug. 26 at Saratoga.
Colonelsdarktemper ran a solid race in his own right to finish second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Untrapped, who'd been third in the Ohio Derby. Then came late-running Watch Me Whip, with a four-length gap back to Awesome Saturday, who ran one-paced in his stakes debut. Wild Shot set splits of 23.31 and 47.71 before tiring and finishing sixth. Hollywood Handsome, Han Sense, Brockton George, and Top Credentials completed the order of finish. Society Beau was scratched.
Irap, off a six-furlong split of 1:11.78 and a mile in 1:35.91, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.21 -- and looked good doing it.
"He's just getting better with each race," said trainer Doug O'Neill. "His last two wins were amazing, but it could have gone either way. Today was so convincing, and there were some good horses in there. He continues to step forward."
An 18th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby did little to contradict the notion Irap's Blue Grass had been fluky, and while winning the Grade 3 Ohio Derby by an eyelash over Girvin on June 24 validated his talent to some degree, Irap revealed a new dimension Saturday night.
Jockey Mario Gutierrez had gotten stuck in mid-pack traffic a race earlier riding favored Mopotism for the same connections as the favorite in the Indiana Oaks, and he was determined from the start to keep Irap in the clear. Breaking from the inside post, Gutierrez steered Irap about four paths off the rail into the first turn, carrying Brockton George wide as he got outside the pace-setters. Irap traveled powerfully down the backstretch and inhaled the front-runners before they knew what had happened.
"When the challenge came up to meet me, it was a little premature, I thought," said Jon Court, who rode Colonelsdarktemper to his second straight runner-up stakes finish. "That's the way it goes in this game. That was the horse I wanted to beat, and he beat me."
O'Neill laid an unusual path leading Irap to the Indiana Derby. After the Ohio Derby, he shipped Irap to Prairie Meadows, where O'Neill was running Shane's Girlfriend in a stakes June 6. He had the rider who was in Iowa with Shane's Girlfriend work Irap the next morning, then shipped Irap here the following day. Irap had no trouble adapting to life on the road, but now goes home to California to prepare for a return to Grade 1 competition.
"He's maturing as a racehorse," said Reddam. "He always had the tools, which is why we've put him in ambitious spots. We're going to take a shot at the big boys now."