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Despite jockey differences, Irap continues to win

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After a brutal Kentucky Derby, Irap has rallied back to win the Ohio and Indiana Derby's, winning under all circumstances and making his case as the best three-year-old racehorse in North America.

Shelbyville, IN – One muddy afternoon on May 6 at Churchill Downs was a race that Irap and his connections happily put in the rearview mirror.

The race was over just as it began for the three-year-old son of Tiznow, who was bumped by two horse’s fresh out of the starting gate, leaving a hapless Irap in the wake of a 19-horse field, unable to rally back into contention.

“We’ve come a long way from that day,” said jockey Mario Gutierrez, who finished in 18th place with Irap in that Kentucky Derby run.  “He’s grown up so much since then.”

The maturation of Irap has been prevalent, clear and undeniable since the Run for the Roses, with back-to-back wins in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 17 and Saturday night at Indiana Grand, where the horse romped a field of 10 in the Grade 3 $500,000 Indiana Derby.

“I think you have to (take Irap seriously).  He’s getting better with each race,” said trainer Doug O’ Neill after his horse closed out second-place finisher Colonelsdarktemper (11-1) by five-lengths in the 1 and 1/16 mile race.  “We’ve learned so much from him. We just couldn’t be happier than we are now. Mario rode just a perfect race.”

Gutierrez kept to a consistent playbook in the colt’s third lifetime win Saturday, keeping him off the pace from the rail—the same position he had in the Ohio Derby at JACKS Thistledown Racino—stalking the fifth position at the first quarter pole (Under Julien Leparoux, Irap sat in that same fifth spot on the inside of the 9-horse field at Thistledown).

While it seemed like parallel styles for the first half of the race, Gutierrez’s second half and stretch-run with Irap was something out of an equine street race, where it looked as if a twin-turbocharged BMW M4 was up against a pair of Pinto’s in Wild Shot (5-1) and Han Sense (51-1), who Irap burned through at the final turn, making it a race of his own on the stretch and finishing the run in 1:42.21.

The finish blew the doors off of the 1:50.48 final time he posted in the 1 and 1/8 Ohio Derby back on June 17. 

“I didn’t want to ride him like he was a horse that doesn’t know how to run, or one that has only one style to run,” said Gutierrez, who put Irap on the lead at the three-quarter pole, where Leparoux was still sitting fourth.  “I gave him the chance to just unfold the race, then find my way outside.  As soon as I found my way outside it was pretty comfortable (with him).”

“Turning for home is when I called on him, and he gave a tremendous explosion,” the jockey continued.  “For him to do that with no hesitation or no kick, that is a big plus for him.  He’s a horse that, up until today, wanted to run with company, but (Saturday) he was waiting for nobody.”

Irap, who earned his spot in the Kentucky Derby (and his maiden) in the Grade 2 Keeneland Bluegrass Stakes—also a Leparoux mount—has had a tale of two jockey’s and their patterns on his back for nine of his 10 career races (seven with Gutierrez).

“He’s the kind of horse you have to ask him pretty early,” said Leparoux after the Ohio Derby.  “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.”

Two differing ideologies, but an ultimate result of a first-place finish came from both rides.  When you peel back the layers, the theme is pretty evident: Irap can race.  You can ask him early or you can ask him late.  With a clean start, Irap is going to find in him a second gear that a lot of his competition just can’t grip.  The three-year-old product of Reddam Racing added to his cunning bravado in Indiana in a race that truly paved the way for a horse and his dominant closing speed.

“The last couple of races he won with Leparoux, he was winning by a nose,” said Gutierrez.  “This time, for the first time, he was going to win against anybody.”

And about that bravado?

“Oh yeah, at this point, you have to put into consideration that he has won a couple of times, and every time a horse wins he gets a little more confidence,” said Gutierrez.  “This is a confident horse.  He knows what he’s capable of.”

All signs point to the Travers Stakes in Saratoga for Irap in his next race.  That race, a Grade 1 showdown, will be the ultimate shot at redemption for a horse that knows he can compete with the best of the best in the three-year-old world of American horse racing.  

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