Everyone’s been waiting to see how McCraken responded to his first loss. The three-year-old hopeful suffered his first defeat in the 2017 Blue Grass Stakes after crushing the competition earlier this season. He’s back to work and looking brilliant, thanks in large part to the plan instilled by trainer Ian Wilkes.
McCraken went out for a five-furlong drill this week under the supervision of Ian Wilkes. The colt chewed out splits of :12, :24 3/5, and :36 2/5 in the early lengths, and closed out the session with an absolutely roaring show as he galloped out hard.
“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.”
Ian Wilkes was part of the team that trained Street Sense on route to a 2007 Kentucky Derby victory. Prior to that huge win, Street Sense was a runner-up in the Blue Grass Stakes. The loss at the derby prep race for McCraken was his first ever, and while devastating initially, the response from the horse has been astounding.
Jockey Brain Hernandez Jr. spoke about how resilient McCraken has been mentally. “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.”
McCraken will be one of the top options on the board at the 2017 Kentucky Derby, and will attempt to give Ian Wilkes his first ever win in the Triple Crown. He will mainly compete with Always Dreaming and Classic Empire, but the race to the wire is tighter this year than it’s been in recent memory.