March 29, 2023

McCraken breezes for Travers; Girvin, Lookin at Lee under consideration for Mid-Summer Derby

McCraken wins the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) with Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard at Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 17, 2017 (c) Jamie Newell/

Grade 2 winner McCraken readied for $1.25 million Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 26 with a bullet half-mile breeze on Thursday for trainer Ian Wilkes.

The sophomore son of Ghostzapper posted the “maintenance work” over Saratoga’s fast Oklahoma training track, clocking four furlongs in :49.03. Regular exercise rider Yoni Orantes was aboard for the move, McCraken’s first since finishing a nose second in the Haskell Invitational (G1).

“It was just a maintenance work,” Wilkes said. “The horse is happy, he’s doing well. We just wanted to let him stretch his legs.

“I’m very pleased with how he’s come out (of the Haskell),” he added. “From what I’ve seen, he hasn’t left an oat. His energy is very good. He’s extremely happy. I feel like he’s moved forward from that race.”

The Haskell was McCraken’s first start since capturing the Matt Winn Stakes (G3). That contest followed the colt’s only unplaced run when eighth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 6.

“He’s very talented,” Wilkes said. “He’s a little bigger, a little stronger. He’s starting to mature more. He’s gotten into a nice rhythm now.”

Wilkes may send McCraken out for two more works before the Travers.

“Just don’t ask me when,” he added. “I like to get into a rhythm and the horse tells me when he’s ready to work. I wasn’t going to work today, I was going to wait until tomorrow but the horse was ready today.”

McCraken may get a rematch with Haskell winner Girvin in the Travers as trainer Joe Sharp reported the Tale of Ekati colt is under strong consideration for the 1 1/4-mile “Mid-Summer Derby.”

“He came out of (the Haskell] perfect),” Sharp said. “He’s been getting better and better since the race and he continues to move forward.”

Girin was a leading contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby off his easy wins at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2). However, the dark bay three-year-old was still recovering from a quarter crack in his right foot and finished 13th in the Run for the Roses.

He was given a brief freshening before returning to be nosed out of the win in the Ohio Derby (G3) on June 24 by Irap. Girvin was the recipient of the nose win in the Haskell.

“Obviously, the whole deal coming up from New Orleans and the whole week leading into the Derby is strenuous,” Sharp acknowledged. “His two weeks leading up to the Derby were tougher than anybody else’s.

“We gave him three weeks after the race before his next breeze and freshened him up a little bit. In that time, we let his foot grow out and we were able to have full shoes on him. We had full shoes on him in the Ohio Derby and he ran huge that day and came out of it physically tighter and continues to move forward.”

Sharp has Girvin scheduled for his first breeze since the Haskell over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track on Saturday morning.

“He seemed to handle (galloping over Saratoga’s main track Thursday morning) very well,” Sharp said. “He continues to get physically tighter and I expect the same effort as he’s given in his last two starts. If that’s good enough to win (the Travers), we’ll find out, but I know he’ll give a good performance.”

Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee is also possible for the Travers, according to trainer Steve Asmussen.

“We’re absolutely looking at the Travers,” Asmussen said. “You put a bunch of three-year-olds together going a mile and a quarter; we want to run.”

Lookin at Lee was the only horse to take part in all three legs of the 2017 Triple Crown, finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, fourth in the Preakness Stakes (G1) and seventh in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He took a break after that latter contest, not reappearing until August 5 when he ran third in the West Virginia Derby (G3) at Mountaineer Park.

“It was a solid effort, I don’t think that the racetrack suited him,” Asmussen said of the West Virginia Derby. “He’s a huge horse. We talked about it as the day was unfolding that it wasn’t ideal for him, but like always, he did his best.”

The bay son of Lookin at Lucky is scheduled to breeze on Monday at Saratoga, where he’s been based since his Belmont Stakes effort.

“Both of his breezes will probably be here on the training track,” Asmussen said. “We’re just trying to keep him happy.”