McCraken, Timeline prepare for upcoming class tests

Profile Picture: James Scully

June 21st, 2017

McCraken and Timeline reside just outside the top tier presently but the 3-year-old colts will try to emerge as serious divisional contenders during the second half of the season. They tuned up for important future engagements with convincing wins over lesser rivals last weekend.

McCraken got back on track in the Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill Downs after sustaining his first two career losses in the Blue Grass (G2) and Kentucky Derby. He broke slowly and trailed by nearly 10 lengths entering the backstretch before accelerating past the competition with a strong turn of foot on the far turn, seizing the lead by upper stretch in a 2 ¼-length decision.

The dark bay son of Ghostzapper won all three juvenile starts at Churchill Downs, including the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), and moved to the top of many Kentucky Derby lists when opening 2017 with a victory in February’s Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. However, McCraken could not sustain his momentum this spring.

I’m willing to give him a pass for the setbacks -- trainer Ian Wilkes wasn’t trying to win the Blue Grass and the sophomore lost all chance when being severely interfered with at the start of the Kentucky Derby -- but remain concerned by his lower BRIS Speed Ratings, with McCraken failing to register a triple-digit number from seven lifetime outings.

A soft pace (6-furlongs in 1:12.26) contributed to the 97 figure he received in the 1 1/16-mile Matt Winn and McCraken could still post better numbers going forward as he continues to mature. But I view him as a bet-against versus top-class competition until he proves so.

Timeline didn’t make his career debut until March and lacks the experience of a McCraken, but BRIS Speed Ratings have not been an issue as he’s recorded 104-109-107 in the last three starts. The Chad Brown-trained colt easily passed his first two-turn test when shipping to Monmouth Park to capture Sunday’s 1 1/16-mile Pegasus (G3) in wire-to-wire fashion.

The chestnut son of Hard Spun won his previous two outings in the slop, scoring by 13 1/2 lengths over entry-level allowance foes at Aqueduct in April and by 3 ½-lengths in the Peter Pan (G3) five weeks later at Belmont Park. Those wins came at the expense of questionable company and Timeline didn’t beat much in the five-horse Pegasus, receiving no pressure on the lead as he dominated from the start.

Despite any class concerns, it’s easy to appreciate the 107 Speed Rating Timeline garnered taking the Pegasus by 3 ½ lengths and the unbeaten sophomore received another excellent BRIS Late Pace Rating (108), the fourth consecutive triple-digit number from as many career starts.

I remember another horse who made a belated career bow in the spring of his 3-year-old season and brought century-topping BRIS Late Pace Ratings from the first four starts into his initial Grade 1 attempt, with bettors dismissing his chances at 11-1 due to false class concerns. Arrogate proceeded to dominate the Travers (G1) at Saratoga and the rest is history.

It’s an unfair comparison but Timeline has a chance to make a significant impact given his superior BRIS Speed and Late Pace Ratings, numbers that will compare favorably to other top contenders in his next engagement, the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) on July 30. He’ll try to stamp himself as a major player in that spot.

As we enter the second half of the season, the 3-year-old male division is headed by a quintet of runners (alphabetical order): Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, Cloud Computing, Irish War Cry and Tapwrit. They’re essentially the “A” team after a Triple Crown season that provided little clarity and upcoming events like the Jim Dandy (G2), Haskell, Travers (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G1) have become more important as a result.

The landscape is eligible to change quickly over the coming months, with McCraken and Timeline looking to step up along with others like American Anthem, Battle of Midway, Gormley, Lookin at Lee, No More Dough, Patch and West Coast, and the division has a wide-open feel similar to 2013, which featured three different classic winners in Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice.

None of the principals played a serious role in the late summer/fall as Will Take Charge, who got drilled at long odds finishing up the track in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, emerged from nowhere to grab the 3-year-old mantle with victories in the Travers (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and a second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Perhaps we’ll get lucky with similar clarity in 2017 but the potential exists for more chaos given the wacky nature of the 3-year-old crop.