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Irap wins the Ohio Derby in thrilling finish

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The 3-1 morning line colt defeated the favorite Girvin by a nose length in the 83rd running of the race.

North Randall, OH – At the wire were the two that everybody expected.

The winner was the much less predicted of the pair.

With a head bob finish that had a capacity crowd on its heels, it was Irap (5/2) that clipped the finish line just over the post-time favorite Girvin (4/5) in the $500,000 Grade 3 Ohio Derby at JACK Thistledown Racino on Saturday afternoon.

The three Kentucky Derby contenders of the nine-horse field all finished in the money, with Untrapped taking third in the mile and 1/8 race.

Irap, the Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow, has won two of his last three starts, including the Bluegrass Stakes (G2) in Keeneland on April 17 where the three-year-old colt broke his maiden after seven winless starts prior. 

“We broke good.  I put him in a good position,” said jockey Julien Leparoux, who is a perfect 2-0 when aboard Irap.  “We got a little bit further back on the first turn, but I was right behind Mike Smith, so I knew that was the right horse to follow.”

The Hall of Famer Smith, who saddled Girvin Saturday, angled for the lead at the three-quarter pole, surpassing Vibe (8-1) and Game Over (12-1) along the way, while the Doug O’ Neill-trained Irap made his move from a stalking, mid-pack position.

“I got him out,” Leparoux said.  “He’s the kind of horse you have to ask him pretty early.  He has that long, long pace.  I was able to get him out, and get him going a bit early and he got there on time.”

Irap and Girvin locked up midway down the stretch--after Game Over had slowly dropped out of contention--riding to the near neck-and-neck finish.  Irap set the final time of 1:50.48 over the fast, dirt surface in a race that earned its first grading since 2013.

“There were some anxious moments because he got in a little traffic, but about the half mile pole it kind of cleared out and Julien had him in good position and came running with him,” said O’ Neill to reporters via phone.  “It was so close—it could have gone either way.”

Irap survived a speedy start from Spiral Stakes (G3) winner Fast and Accurate, who set the pace at a swift 48.04 at the half pole, then raised his white flag near the three-quarter mark when Vibe surpassed the T.D. Houghton-ridden colt.  Sorry Erik (5-1), a California circuit colt ridden by Kent Desormeaux came off the pace in an eyebrow-raising run along the rail on the final stretch, but was no match for the speed of the two frontrunners, settling instead for a fourth place finish.

Girvin, a winner of Fair Ground's Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star (G2), had Smith in the irons for the Kentucky Derby, where the pair finished 13th.  Irap ran 18th at Churchill Downs with Mario Gutierrez, who has been in the irons on Irap in seven of 10 starts.

Saturday's big winner, Leparoux, who was aboard Classic Empire in the Kentucky Derby, talked about the humble planning behind making this combination of he and Irap a successful one.

“I know I have to ask him early, and that’s what me and Doug (O’ Neill) discussed,” the jockey said.  “We took the first turn, he agreed and that was it.  We won.  This horse gets it.”

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