A week after juvenile champion Classic Empire faltered launching his 3-year-old campaign, McCraken confirmed his credentials as a leading Kentucky Derby contender returning a winner in Saturday’s $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, establishing a new track record posting a 1 ½-length decision. The Ian Wilkes-trained colt completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.45 to remain unbeaten in four career starts.
With regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr., McCraken settled about five lengths off the pace in seventh and began to advance along the rail on the far turn before swinging about five wide, circling foes to reach a threatening position by upper stretch.
State of Honor sped forward from his rail post to show the way on a short lead through splits in :23.63, :47.15 and 1:10.90. Wild Shot made a run at the pacesetter on the far turn and they entered the stretch on nearly even terms before being overhauled by McCraken, who carried his momentum into straightaway while widest of all and accelerated to a clear lead with a sixteenth of a mile remaining.
McCraken was favored at 3-2 among nine rivals.
By Ghostzapper, the Whitham Thoroughbreds homebred added 10 points to his ledger winning the qualifying race, jumping to third on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. McCraken also recorded his first victory outside of Churchill Downs.
“He puts a lot of confidence in you, that’s for sure,” Hernandez said. “You’ve just got to go with it and ride him with confidence. I asked him at about the half-mile pole and he hesitated a bit, but I think that was his way of telling me ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to get the job done.'”
Tapwrit angled out in midstretch and outfinished State of Honor by a length for second at 9-1 odds. State of Honor left the starting gate at 11-1 and wound up a length better than 7-1 Wild Shot in fourth.
Fact Finding, the 5-2 second choice, came next in fifth and was followed by 7-2 third choice No Dozing.
A debut winner in early October, McCraken followed with convincing wins in the October 30 Street Sense and November 26 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). He’s now earned $310,848 and will likely point toward the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
“We’ve got a long way to go. This is not a one-race program,” Wilkes said. “I want two more races for him, then the Derby. This is just one stepping stone, and we keep building.”