Trainer Ian Wilkes is in the midst of readying McCraken for a strong showing at the 2017 Kentucky Derby, and so far everything is on track. The three-year-old has been one of the top contenders all season, but sustained a tough third place showing in the Blue Grass Stakes. Wilkes is hoping that that was just a one-off.
To prepare, Ian Wilkes took McCraken out for a five-furlong drill this week and the results were awesome. McCraken ripped splits of :12, :24 3/5, and :36 2/5 in the early phases, but what was most impressive was how he closed the session. The colt crushed his stablemate in 1:13 and 1:26 down the stretch, showing off the closing speed that has had him rated so high in the first place.
“We’ve still got another work yet,” said Ian Wilkes. “But you want to see that gallop out. He went 1:00 3/5 and then he still galloped out strong. If he didn’t gallop out good then wow, I’m behind. I think it tells you a lot about the work.”
To those in attendance, McCraken showed the kind of authority that you need to win big races on the grandest stage. Ian Wilkes knows what that looks like after being part of the team that trained up Street Sense towards a 2007 Kentucky Derby win. Prior to that momentous victory, Street Sense was runner-up at the Blue Grass Stakes.
Jockey Brain Hernandez Jr. resonated the optimism initiated by Ian Wilkes. “All of his races prior to the Blue Grass, he always kind of just did what he wanted and beat up on horses,” Hernandez said. “It’s like a high school football player who beats up on everyone and is really, really good but when he steps up into college, the competition gets deeper.
“I think that’s what happened with McCraken that day. When he got beat, it kind of woke him up. Last week his work was great but today it showed that he can sit back there and, even though the work mate kind of spurted away from him turning for home, he was able to go by him anytime he wanted to. When it was time for him to go on, he picked it up and showed what a smart horse he is.”
Patience is key to winning the Kentucky Derby, and McCraken has proved that he not only has both reserve in his form but also the reserves in the gas tank to compete when The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports revs up in the final furlong. He’s in the mix. No doubt about it.