Strange things happen with horses that finish fourth in the Sunland Derby. Keep in mind, of course, that the Sunland Derby is about as far outside of the mainstream as you can get with a Kentucky Derby prep. The elite horses don't go there in the first place, so finishing fourth in that race isn't exactly a crowning accomplishment. Yet in 2009 Mine That Bird was a dismal fourth in that race, and he came back to win the Kentucky Derby in truly shocking fashion. And now this year Irap was a very underwhelming fourth in a very bad looking Sunland, and then he came back just two weeks later to not only break his maiden but do it in the Blue Grass Stakes - one of the biggest Derby prep races on the calendar. You can't sleep on the Sunland, I guess.
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Last race: The Blue Grass Stakes was just an odd race. There's no way around it. Favorite McCraken just didn't have it in him after a longer-than-ideal layoff. Second choice Tapwrit had a horrible start and never seemed to recover from it mentally. Third choice Practical Joke looked like the race was his in the stretch, but he just hung up and had nothing left to give. None of the top horses seemed at all interested in winning the race. And yet someone has to win. And that's where this long shot stepped up. Going off at 31/1, he shadowed the early pace set by Wild Shot, who wound up last. He took over around the far turn, pulled off in the stretch, and held on because no one really put anything into chasing him. A win is a win - especially in a Grade 2 race - but this was as much a win by default as you will ever see.
Prior experience: The Blue Grass was the horse's eighth career start. He showed too little in two maiden races in the fall, then he made a jump into grade 1 company for the Cash Call Futurity at Los Alamitos. He finished second but was so far behind winner Mastery, who would have been Derby favorite if he weren't injured, that he was almost in a different time zone. Then it was back to maiden company for another unsuccessful attempt. He started his three year old campaign by again finishing second in a graded stakes in the Robert B. Lewis, again finishing way out of touch with the winner Royal Mo, who he will see again in the Derby. Then he headed to Sunland Park in New Mexico where he was second in the Mine That Bird Derby before the really unimpressive fourth in the Sunland Derby. Literally nothing the horse had done before the Blue Grass hinted at what happened in the Blue Grass.
Trainer: I probably shouldn't say too much about Doug O'Neill - my late mother taught me that if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all. He has won the Derby twice - with Nyquist last year and with I'll Have Another. He's also a drug cheat who typifies so much of what is wrong with the sport. He wouldn't train my horses if he was the last trainer on the planet. But he can win the Derby. It's worth noting that O'Neill wasn't with this horse at Keeneland for the Blue Grass. He was at Santa Anita having a horrible day with four starters in the Derby there, so Irap was in the command of a former assistant.
Jockey: Julien Leparoux was aboard for the Blue Grass, but that was likely just a one-time affair. Leparoux rides a lot of Mark Casse horses, and at least one and likely two of them are heading to Kentucky, so Leparoux will be on one of them. Mario Gutierrez had previously ridden the horse and was unavailable for the Blue Grass because of the Santa Anita Derby. Gutierrez has ridden both Derby winners for O'Neill, and will be in charge here, too. The only potential thing that could shake things up is if Iliad, who is currently well out of the 20-horse field, were to make his way into the Derby field. Gutierrez would likely have first choice of mounts, and I wouldn't choose Irap if the choice was mine.
Breeding: The best thing about Irap is his breeding. Sire Tiznow was Horse of the Year in 2000 and won the Breeders' Cup Classic that year and the next. He has had a solid stud career, with the Triple Crown highlight being shocking 2008 Belmont winner Da'Tara. Damsire Storm Cat is a legend. He sired countless top horses, including Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat. He was the damsire of many greats, including the impressive Shared Belief, and he is the great-grandsire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. The blood of Irap is strong.
Odds: At +2000 to win the Derby at BetOnline , Irap is a serious underlay. Lightning doesn't strike twice - especially not against a 20-horse field. He was not listed individually in the final Kentucky Derby future wager offered by Churchill Downs, so he is part of the mutuel field listed at 11/1.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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