2017 KY Derby Update: Irap, McCracken

KY Derby Logo 2017Press Release

The Irap Traveling Show will remain at Keeneland for the time being.

“He will stay at Keeneland and probably do the Nyquist thing and go to Churchill Downs the week of the Kentucky Derby,” said Jack Sisterson, who assisted in the preparation of Irap for his maiden-breaking score in Saturday’s Toyota Blue Grass (G2). “It seems like every time (trainer) Doug (O’Neill) has brought a horse here from California, they have thrived.”

Last year, champion Nyquist shipped directly to Keeneland after a victory in the Florida Derby (G1) and trained here for almost a month before shipping to Louisville and winning the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).

Nyquist, like Irap owned by Reddam Racing, had all of his pre-Derby works here. Sisterson thinks Irap will follow a similar plan.

“I don’t think any of Doug’s Derby horses in the past have had their final works at Churchill,” Sisterson said before leaving town for Europe.

By text, O’Neill said he was not sure when he would come to Keeneland. Last year, he made several trips back and forth from his Santa Anita base to Keeneland before spending the final couple of weeks in Kentucky.

So, for now, Irap will be cared for by exercise rider Antonio Romero and groom Fernel Serrano. As a team, they have been on the road for three weeks now, first with a week’s stay at Sunland Park in New Mexico for the March 26 Sunland Derby, and then on to Keeneland.

“We got pretty excited,” Romero said. “Julien (Leparoux) rode him perfectly.”

Trainer Chad Brown said Toyota Blue Grass runner-up Practical Joke came out of the race well.

“Practical Joke ran terrific,” Brown said. “He had a little bit of a wide trip but really ran well. 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.”

Brown said Practical Joke would remain at Keeneland for the time being until he determines when to send the colt to Churchill.

Beaten favorite McCraken jogged once around the main track at 6 a.m. on Sunday with exercise Yoni Orantes aboard. Trainer Ian Wilkes vanned McCraken to Churchill Downs Monday.

McCraken finished third, beaten 3¾ lengths and recorded the first defeat in his five-race career.

“I thought he was too fresh and too much on the bit and that is where missing that race (the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 11) showed up,” Wilkes said. “He was a little too keen.”

Wilkes was the exercise rider for 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled and the assistant to Carl Nafzger for 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, both of whom lost in the Toyota Blue Grass.

“I told Carl last night that I couldn’t get that ‘Nafzger Blue Grass Monkey’ off my back,” Wilkes said with a laugh. “I wanted to get a good race and I was very pleased with the race. 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.”

Wilkes was asked if he was disappointed McCraken finished behind a maiden.

“That doesn’t matter. They all have a chance to beat you,” Wilkes said. “It got the monkey off my back of being undefeated. That adds a little pressure. Now that that is over, you can concentrate on getting the job done.”

While McCraken will be heading to Churchill Downs, fifth-place finisher Tapwrit figures to remain at Keeneland for the time being.

“He is good this morning and will stay here for a while,” said Ginny DePasquale, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “He may go over to Churchill Downs; I don’t envision him going back to Florida.”

Tapwrit has accumulated 54 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and is one of five Pletcher runners in the top 20, the maximum number of starters for the Run for the Roses.

“He just didn’t show up yesterday,” DePasquale said. “He was totally different compared to Tampa where he was on the muscle (before winning the Tampa Bay Derby).”

Calumet Farm’s Wild Shot, who set the pace before finishing last of seven, was fine Sunday morning, according to trainer Rusty Arnold.

“Nothing went right yesterday,” Arnold said. “He was terrible in the paddock and he may have run three races in there which is surprising because he had never done that before. He didn’t handle the crowd.

“Soundness wise, he’s fine. We will regroup and talk with the Calumet people. The ($250,000) Pat Day Mile (G3 on May 6) is an option.”

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Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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