Blue Grass Stakes Photos: Irap & Sailor’s Valentine Deliver Surprises

It doesn’t truly feel like spring has arrived until Keeneland’s opening weekend. Lexington was once again blessed with beautiful weather on this important weekend, and very lucky, as the area was pummeled by severe storms two days prior.

The 7-furlong Commonwealth Stakes (G3) shaped itself as an exciting race. Entrants included 2016 Commonwealth winner Ami’s Flatter and A.P. Indian, winner of five in a row last year, including the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1), Forego Stakes (G1), and Phoenix Stakes (G2), before finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). The Commonwealth was A.P. Indian’s seasonal debut.

With Joe Bravo up, A.P. Indian stalked the pace and went four wide around the turn to take the lead over Limousine Liberal. In the meantime, in a late closing move, Awesome Slew and Joel Rosario swept by the field on the outside and passed A.P. Indian in the stretch. The Commonwealth was the fourth win in 11 starts for the four-year-old Awesome Again colt.

A.P. Indian is walked in the Keeneland paddock prior to the Commonwealth Stakes (G3).
Awesome Slew heads out to the track prior to the Commonwealth Stakes (G3).
Awesome Slew and Joel Rosario overtake A.P. Indian (8) in the Commonwealth Stakes (G3).
Awesome Slew and Joel Rosario overtake A.P. Indian (8) in the Commonwealth Stakes (G3).
Joel Rosario, Awesome Slew, trainer Mark Casse, and owner Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation head to the winner’s circle after winning the Commonwealth Stakes (G3).

Unraced since a seventh-place finish in the Woodford Stakes (G3) at Keeneland last October, Holding Gold proved he was ready for the Shakertown Stakes (G2), a 5–½ furlong sprint on the turf. With Joel Rosario up, the Lonhro colt hung back and saved ground along the inside path to take the race by a neck over Green Mask, with favored Hogy a length and a half back in third.

Joel Rosario and Holding Gold deny Green Mask in the Shakertown Stakes (G2).
Joel Rosario and Holding Gold deny Green Mask in the Shakertown Stakes (G2).
Deja vu, anyone? Joel Rosario, Holding Gold, trainer Mark Casse, and owner Charlotte Weber head to the winner’s circle after winning the Shakertown Stakes (G2).
The Shakertown Stakes (G2) winner’s circle.

In the seven-furlong Madison Stakes (G1), Paulassilverlining was the first — and only — favorite of the day to find their way to the winner’s circle. With Jose Ortiz up, the five-year-old Ghostzapper mare dug in deep to hold off Constellation by a neck.

Paulassilverlining and Jose Ortiz hold off Constellation in the Madison Stakes (G1).
Paulassilverlining and Jose Ortiz hold off Constellation in the Madison Stakes (G1).
Paulassilverlining and Jose Ortiz head to the winner’s circle after winning the Madison Stakes (G1).
The winner’s circle for the Madison Stakes (G1).

At 22–1, Sailor’s Valentine was a gift to Keeneland. The finely-sculpted Mizzen Mast filly captured her first stakes win in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1). With Corey Lanerie up, she broke strongly and sat just off the pace before taking charge in the homestretch. Daddys Lil Darling finished a half length back in second, with Someday Soon third.

The Keeneland paddock prior to the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1).
The jockeys enter the walking ring for the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1).
The start of the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1).
Sailor’s Valentine takes flight early in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1).
Corey Lanerie and Sailor’s Valentine win the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1).
Corey Lanerie and Sailor’s Valentine win the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1).
Trainer Eddie Kenneally pats Sailor’s Valentine after her win in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1).
Sailor’s Valentine gets well-deserved pats after winning the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1).

The Kentucky Derby picture was stirred ever further in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2). Guided by Julien Leparoux, Irap — winless in seven starts — humbled a deep and talented Blue Grass field, which included the likes of Champagne Stakes (G1) and Hopeful Stakes (G1) winner Practical Joke, Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Tapwrit, Gotham Stakes (G3) winner J Boys Echo, and the undefeated McCraken.

The 2017 edition of the Blue Grass was a fitting nod to Man o’ War, whose 100th birthday was two weeks ago, as Irap is a son of Tiznow, a direct male descendant of the legendary horse.

McCraken and Brian Hernandez, Jr., walk in the post parade prior to the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
Practical Joke leads early in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2), followed closely by Irap and Julien Leparoux.
Julien Leparoux and Irap win the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
Julien Leparoux and Irap win the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
McCraken returns after the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
Irap and Julien Leparoux return after a surprise win in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
Irap poses in the winner’s circle after winning the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).

This was originally published on Horse Racing Nation.