A day after Irap’s monumental upset in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, the surprise hadn’t worn off, and neither had the Kentucky Derby hopes of the top five finishers.
Jack Sisterson, assistant trainer to Doug O’Neill, noted after Saturday’s race that Irap would likely stick around at Keeneland to prep for next month’s Derby, and that was still the plan as of Sunday morning.
“He will stay at Keeneland and probably do the Nyquist thing and go to Churchill Downs the week of the Kentucky Derby,” said Sisterson, who was in Lexington for Saturday’s race while O’Neill saddled four runners in the Santa Anita Derby in California. “It seems like every time Doug has brought a horse here from California, they have thrived.”
Nyquist, last year’s Derby winner, shipped to Keeneland after winning the Florida Derby and trained in Lexington for nearly a month before moving on to Churchill Downs about a week before the big race.
Irap had zero wins in seven lifetime starts going into the Blue Grass Stakes, and the son of Tiznow became the first maiden to win the race, which had its 93rd running Saturday.
Blue Grass runner-up Practical Joke gave Irap a run in the stretch before finishing three-quarters of a length behind the first-time winner.
“Practical Joke ran terrific,” said trainer Chad Brown. “I was encouraged to see him in a two-turn race with a sustained run, making up ground in the lane, not losing ground. He gives me some optimism to keep going forward towards the Derby.”
Practical Joke, now eighth on the Derby points list, also will remain at Keeneland for the time being.
Blue Grass favorite McCraken — the third-place finisher — jogged around the main Keeneland track at 6 a.m. Sunday, a day after his first race in eight weeks. McCraken missed his scheduled start in the Tampa Bay Derby last month due to a minor ankle injury.
Trainer Ian Wilkes is planning to send him to Churchill Downs on Monday.
“I wanted to get a good race and I was very pleased with the race,” he said. “He didn’t back down. He didn’t quit. You want to see what happens when he gets in against the big boys, and he pushed back. We wanted to win, but maybe he learned something yesterday.”
Fourth-place finisher J Boys Echo and fifth-place finisher Tapwrit have ample points to make the Derby field, and connections for both colts said they were still eyeing the Kentucky Derby.
If all five Blue Grass competitors make the Derby starting gate, it would be the largest number from Keeneland’s signature prep race to compete in the Derby since 2008, when six Blue Grass starters ran on the first Saturday in May.
Julien Leparoux, who rode Irap to victory in the Blue Grass Stakes, will have a decision to make in the next couple of weeks.
Leparoux is the regular jockey for 2-year-old champ Classic Empire, who makes his return to the track Saturday in the Arkansas Derby. He also has State of Honor, who finished second in the Florida Derby last week.
Assistant trainer Jack Sisterson noted that Mario Gutierrez is the “first-call rider” for Paul Reddam, who owns Irap. Gutierrez, who rode Irap in six of his previous seven starts, also rode Nyquist and I’ll Have Another to Kentucky Derby victories for Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill.
Brian Hernandez is the regular jockey for McCraken, perhaps the Kentucky Derby favorite going into Saturday, but he also rides Girvin, winner of the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes. He’ll have a decision to make, too.