McCraken enters Derby discussion with Kentucky Jockey Club win

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

November 26th, 2016

Janis Whitham, who with her late husband, Frank, campaigned Hall of Fame older mare Bayakoa more than a quarter century ago, and later Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) hero Fort Larned in her own right, has an exciting Kentucky Derby (G1) prospect in McCraken, who rallied impressively to wear down Wild Shot to take Saturday's $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs.

The victory by McCraken capped a big weekend for Whitham, trainer Ian Wilkes, who won his 500th career race on Thanksgiving, and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., who all teamed up to capture the Mrs. Revere (G2) at Churchill on Friday with Linda.

Settled in ninth among the field of 12 early, McCraken bided his time as Uncontested led by two lengths through an opening quarter in :23.45 before coming under more serious pressure from Wild Shot through internal splits of :478.38 and 1:12.01.

Making a six-wide rally on the turn, and entering the stretch four wide, McCraken took aim at Wild Shot, who had passed Uncontested in upper stretch. The long Churchill stretch worked to McCraken's benefit as he gradually wore down Wild Shot and was hand ridden to a 1 1/4-length triumph in a time of 1:44.15 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track.

The 4-5 favorite, McCraken remained unbeaten in three starts and paid $3.60. Second choice Wild Shot was 3 3/4 lengths clear of Warrior's Club, who edged Uncontested by a head for third.

"He’s got a tremendous turn of foot. He was in a great spot and I thought that Brian rode him well and I was very pleased with his performance tonight," Wilkes said. "He’s got a great mind, a great turn of foot and he has the ability. I’m going to enjoy tonight, the hype around him has been unbelievable all week. The hype has been tremendous but I just want to enjoy this for one and map out a plan with Mrs. Whitham and just not get ahead ourselves.”

McCraken has now earned $190,848, and with the Kentucky Jockey Club win earned 10 qualifying points toward Kentucky Derby eligibility. Wild Shot, Warrior's Club, and Uncontested earned points of 4-2-1, respectively.

All three of McCraken's starts have occurred at Churchill. Victorious in his six-furlong debut October 2 by 2 1/2 lengths, he followed up with a 3 3/4-length decision in the $83,000 Street Sense over a mile on October 30.

A homebred foaled in Kentucky, McCraken is by Ghostzapper and out of the Grade 3-placed Ivory Empress, by Seeking the Gold. A half-sister to Grade 1 winner Mea Domina and out of Grade 3 scorer Madame Pandit, Ivory Empress has also reared the Grade 3-placed Bodurant.

(Coady Photography)