April 20, 2024

McCraken rebounds nicely in Matt Winn

McCraken easily captures Matt Winn (G3) on June 17, 2017 (c) Coady Photo

After a troubled eighth in the Kentucky Derby, McCraken returned to the win column in Saturday’s $100,000 Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill Downs. He towered over the competition as the 1-5 favorite and connections hope the 2 ¼-length decision will propel the 3-year-old colt toward greater heights in the second half of the season.

A Janis Whitham homebred, the Ian Wilkes-trained McCraken overcame a stumbling start to easily prevail under regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr., who took the overland route on the far turn to avoid any interference. The dark bay son of Ghostzapper settled well off the pace as Aquamarine showed the way on a clear lead through opening splits in in :23.58 and :47.48.

McCraken launched his bid on the far turn, displaying the same lethal turn of foot that carried him to wins in his first four starts as he accelerated past rivals without being asked. He assumed the lead while cornering four-wide into the stretch, reaching the sixteenth pole with a two-length advantage, and was never seriously threatened completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.84.

“Today, he was kind of back to his old self where he got into a nice rhythm around there,” Hernandez said. “He wasn’t wanting to overdo it the first part and then he just kind of built his confidence up as he went.

“He went on by those horses pretty easily and thought he kind of did it the right way. You always hear it, but it was actually the perfect race that you’re looking for a horse coming back.”

A Kentucky-bred, McCraken won all three juvenile starts at Churchill Downs, including stakes tallies in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and Street Sense, and he ascended to the top of many Kentucky Derby lists after opening 2017 with a victory in the February 11 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.

An ankle strain forced him to skip the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in mid-March and McCraken sustained his first loss when returning from a two-month freshening with a third in the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland. He was essentially eliminated at the start of the Kentucky Derby when being slammed and funneled back in the early stages and emerged from the rough trip with cuts and bruises.

“I loved that he relaxed (at the start, like he did early in his career),” Wilkes said. “He left (the starting gate) listening to Brian, doing things the right way. I didn’t give Brian any instructions. I just told him when I legged him up, ‘you know him. You ride him. Ride with some confidence.’

“I loved everything about it. He come into the paddock really good today. Behind the gates, he was walking around like he had some confidence about him. And so that was good. And then when he left the gate, he just dropped the bit and listened to Brian. I was very pleased.”

With the $61,380 payday, McCraken has now earned $472,228 from a 7-5-0-1 record. Upcoming races like the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park and Travers (G1) at Saratoga are options for the talented sophomore, but Wilkes said he doesn’t have any plans yet.

“It’s just a shew, I got through this,” the trainer said. “Any time you’re 1-5, you’re supposed to win. These are the hardest to win.”

Colonelsdarktemper outfinished Society Beau by about a length for second. Mo’s Mojo wound up fourth and was followed under the wire by Excitations and Aquamarine.