Blue Grass shocker as Irap stuns Kentucky hopes
Florida victor Always Dreaming clear Derby favourite after 31-1 Keeneland upset
Report: USA, Saturday
Keeneland: Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 2) 1m1f | dirt | 3yo
Irap's shock victory in the Blue Grass Stakes provided the biggest upset in a series of muddling Kentucky Derby trials that left last weekend's Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming standing alone as clear favourite for America's greatest race.
Irap (Doug O'Neill/Julien Leparoux) was sent off a 31-1 shot as the son of Tiznow became the first maiden to win the Blue Grass as he defeated a phalanx of leading Derby contenders.
Among them was the previously unbeaten McCraken, who had nothing left to offer in the stretch after an interrupted preparation and finished third, three lengths behind runner-up Practical Joke, who was unable to peg back front-running Irap in the $1 million contest, which lost its Grade 1 status this year.
Irap represents last year's Kentucky-winning team of owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O'Neill. In a race devoid of obvious pace horses, he took the lead halfway through and had enough left to hold off his pursuers, stopping the clock in 1min 50.39sec.
"When he made the lead I thought, 'That SOB is going to hit the board here'," said Reddam. "It's just a fantastic feeling to win when you don't think you're going to."
Irap is 25-1 with Ladbrokes for the Kentucky Derby, while former favourite McCraken is out to 14-1 with Coral. "He faced a little adversity today and he didn't fold it in for me," said trainer Ian Wilkes. "He was blowing today. He needed that race and I should get some improvement off of this, no problem."
Also on Saturday
Santa Anita: Santa Anita Derby (Grade 1) 1m1f | dirt | 3yo
Carrying the Zenyatta colours of owners Jerry and Ann Moss, Gormley (John Shirreffs/Victor Espinoza) wore down front-runner Battle Of Midway close home to land his second Grade 1 success after last year's FrontRunner.
The 6-1 shot sat in the second rank behind as a three-way pace battle (fractions of 22.66 secs, 46.55 secs, 1m10.92 secs) ensued up front on a surface displaying an obvious speed bias all day long. The runner-up kept on well enough to be beaten only a half-length, with the favourite Iliad only fifth, albeit close up in a tight finish.
Aqueduct: Wood Memorial (Grade 2) 1m1f | dirt | 3yo
Redemption for Holy Bull Stakes winner Irish War Cry (Graham Motion/Rajiv Maragh), who got back on the Kentucky trail after blotting his copybook with a downbeat performance in the Fountain of Youth.
Tactics were changed here, with stalk-and-pounce proving the answer as the winner sat off Battalion Runner before taking the lead at the furlong pole and drawing away to score by a convincing three and a half lengths.
Santa Anita: Santa Anita Oaks (Grade 1) 1m½f | dirt | 3yo
An impressive display from the highly regarded Paradise Woods (Richard Mandella/Flavien Prat), who rode the rail to make all on her stakes debut for an 11¾-length victory.
"She looked like she was just cruising out there," said Mandella. "She took my breath away. I have always been high on her but I didn’t think she would do this."
The Kentucky Oaks will be the next target for both the winner and runner-up Abel Tasman, who met trouble in running and then had to round the field from the rear, by which time the 8-1 winner was long gone.
Aqueduct: Gazelle Stakes (Grade 2) 1m1f | dirt | 3yo fillies
Another wide-margin winner as Miss Sky Warrior (Kelly Breen/Paco Lopez) – the only winning favourite in any of Saturday's Oaks and Derby preps – outclassed her rivals in a 13-length victory after going gate to wire to complete a five-timer. She will go to the Kentucky Oaks as one of the leading fancies.
Keeneland: Ashland Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f | dirt | 3yo fillies
A second shock result at Keeneland as 22-1 chance Sailor's Valentine (Eddie Kenneally/Corey Lanerie) held on by half a length from Daddys Lil Darling to claim this major Oaks trial. Hot favourite Elate was pulled up after taking a false step.
Keeneland: Madison Stakes (Grade 1) 7f | dirt | 4yo+ f/m
A game victory for Paulassilverlining (Chad Brown/Jose Ortiz), bought privately as a broodmare prospect for Juddmonte, who was landing her first Grade 1 success on her debut for Khalid Abdullah's team.
Aqueduct: Carter Hcap (Grade 1) 7f | dirt | 4yo+
One for the old-timers as hard-knocking veteran Green Gratto (Gaston Grant/Chris DeCarlo), a seven-year-old well known in lesser stakes races on the New York circuit, held off odds-on favourite Unified (gave 4lb) to score by a neck. Winning at the top level for the first time in a 53-race career, Green Gratto was returned a 54-1 shot.