Ian Wilkes says his role in helping McCraken get to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands at Churchill Downs on May 6 is relatively simple.
“I've just got to stay out of his way and let him take me,” Wilkes said this morning.
The unbeaten (4-for-4) 3-year-old colt raised his connections' optimism several notches Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, winning the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes by a length-and-a-half from Tapwrit. State of Honor finished third, another length back, with Wild Shot fourth and the other five well in arrears.
McCraken's time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., was 1:42.45, bettering the previous stakes and track record of 1:42.82 set by Destin in last year's Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. McCraken carried top weight of 122 pounds, giving up between 2-to-6 pounds to his rivals.
Wilkes said it is likely McCraken will return to Oldsmar for the 37th edition of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 11, the track's Festival Day. “You can't lock yourself into one place, but the timing is good to come back,” he said.
The son of Ghostzapper-Ivory Empress, by Seeking the Gold, is a homebred racing for the Whitham Thoroughbreds operation of Janis Whitham. She teamed with Wilkes and Hernandez to win the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita with her homebred Fort Larned, who prepped at Tampa Bay Downs earlier that year by winning the Challenger Stakes.
McCraken, named after a city in Kansas about 110 miles from Whitham's hometown of Leoti, returned to Wilkes' Palm Meadows Training Center base in Boynton Beach, Fla., on Saturday night. Wilkes said the colt walked and had a bath this morning and all signs are positive.
“It's just a good thing to get him back in action and get him going as a 3-year-old, and the way he ran makes you feel like he proved a little more,” Wilkes said. “A lot of 3-year-olds on the Derby trail keep getting better and bigger and stronger this time of year, so we have to keep going.
“I've always said he's going to take me to (the Kentucky Derby) if he's good enough, and it's exciting any time you have a horse with Derby potential.”
Should McCraken get back to Churchill Downs, where he was 3-for-3 last year, he would be Wilkes' first starter in the Kentucky Derby. But Wilkes was a part of Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger's two victories in the Run for the Roses, galloping Unbridled in 1990 and playing an even larger role in the development of 2007 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner Street Sense, who won the Tampa Bay Derby in then-track-record time of 1:43.11 before his Louisville triumph.
Street Sense and Super Saver (2010), who finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby, are the only Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winners to prepare at Tampa Bay Downs.
Read more about trainer Ian Wilkes here.
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