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Irap gatecrashes Kentucky Derby scene to carve a fitting memorial to his dam

Half-brother to Speightstown was sold on the last day of their dam's life

Irap (Julien Leparoux, right) gives a posthumous boost to the dam of Speightstown
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Just over a year ago, at a breeze-up sale in Florida, a two-year-old colt by Tiznow was sold to Dennis O’Neill for $300,000. Nobody, however, could know the latent weight of destiny in this transaction. For it was the very same day, in the Kentucky paddock that had been her home for the past twenty years, that the colt’s dam Silken Cat lay down and died. It was as though she were satisfied that her work was now done.

Given that her first foal had been no less a horse than Speightstown, the sum paid by O’Neill for her last one at March OBS would seem really quite fair. The fact was, however, that the youngster had changed hands for a good deal less the previous autumn, having failed to reach his reserve at $140,000 at Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale.

Nor did he do a great deal, once sent to O’Neill’s brother Doug, to suggest that Silken Cat was going to bookend her breeding career with a second Speightstown. Until Saturday, in fact, the colt - named Irap - had failed to win in seven attempts. It would have seemed fantastic, as such, to propose that he could achieve anything in his eighth start that might qualify him to emulate I’ll Have Another and Nyquist, who respectively carried the silks of his owner Paul Reddam to Kentucky Derby success in 2012 and 2016.

But that eighth race was no less a race than the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, and Irap's 31-1 success came at the expense of several who had seemed bona fide candidates for Churchill Downs next month, including Practical Joke, McCraken and Tapwrit. As his longshot took over, turning out of the back stretch, Reddam said to himself: “That SOB is going to hit the board here.” And then, as Irap still held out with a furlong to go, he admitted: “Man, we have a chance to win.”

It turns out, then, that the Silken Cat tale has a posthumous twist. It began with a 1992 date between her dam Silken Doll, a daughter of the Bold Ruler sire Chieftain, and Storm Cat. Silken Doll was a half-sister to a Grade 1 turf winner in Turk Passer, from a classy family extending to Hildene, a poor racehorse but great broodmare who condensed the old-time influences of Ben Brush and Domino. She was the dam of Princequillo’s first star, Hill Prince, and a champion juvenile colt in First Landing, himself sire of a dual Classic winner in Riva Ridge.

Foaled in Quebec by Ferme du Bois Vert, Silken Cat was sold as a yearling at Saratoga for $95,000 and in her first season became the champion of her sex in Canada - winning her maiden by eight lengths, an allowance by 14 and a stakes by three and a half. Initially it seemed as though her subsequent purchase by Aaron and Marie Jones had backfired, as she lost her unbeaten record in a solitary start in California before being forced into retirement.

But her first cover by Gone West - like her own sire, out of a Secretariat mare, and so compounding the Bold Ruler thread noted in Chieftain - produced a $2 million yearling and a champion sprinter in Speightstown. Though his fulfilment was retarded by injury, a spectacular late bloom produced five wins of six starts as a six-year-old including the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

The chestnut speedball retired to WinStar at $40,000 and produced five Grade 1 winners from his first crop, albeit they too largely proved late developers. His stock have continued to develop a wholesome profile in maturity, as typified by the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile success of Tamarkuz last year at the age of seven. The latter now joins the likes of Munnings in testing Speightstown, now up to 14 elite scorers and a fee of $100,000, as a sire of sires.

Unfortunately, Silken Cat appears to have burned rather too many fingers after producing this shiny copper nugget of class at the first attempt. She produced four other seven-figure yearlings, but the dividends were minimal. There was a winner in Malaysia, but the rest either failed to win or even to run - including a sister to Speightstown, who raised $1.5 million at Keeneland in 2007; and a filly by Tiznow, the great outcross sire of Irap, who changed hands for $1.75 million there in 2013.

Little wonder, perhaps, if so many had given up on his dam by the time Irap clocked 10.1 seconds in his breeze at Ocala. Perhaps if they had known that staff at Taylor Made Farm were mourning Silken Cat - as “a lover of people, carrots and peppermints, adored by all who met her” - within hours of her last foal entering the ring, they might have found some perseverance.

Mind you, it would have had to be on the same heroic scale as shown by anyone who backed Irap at Keeneland on Saturday. For a maiden making his eighth start to beat this lot, and moreover to do so cornering on the wrong lead, aptly condenses the confusion on the Triple Crown trail this spring. As a son of Tiznow, he will only ever get love from this quarter. But McCraken and company could yet emulate the example of Irish War Cry and Gormley, who are both back in contention after bouncing back from recent disappointments over the weekend.

The former, a son of Curlin, derailed the Pletcher express in beating Battalion Runner in the Wood Memorial. Gormley meanwhile won the Santa Anita Derby, after which it was announced that he would join his sire Malibu Moon at Spendthrift Farm once his career is over.

Unfortunately, Silken Cat appears to have burned rather too many fingers after producing this shiny copper nugget of class at the first attempt
E.W. Terms
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