March 28, 2023

After Sam Davis win, best not to get too high or too low on McCraken

McCraken is on a Blue Grass collision course with Classic Empire (SV Photography)

McCraken didn’t have to win Saturday’s Sam F. Davis (G3) to retain his position among the top five or so leading Kentucky Derby (G1) prospects. Some observers, myself included, considered the race a likely means to an end for a colt whose focus is squarely on the Kentucky Derby (G1). Thus, I and others found refuge and “value” in others for our top selection.

The Davis most certainly was a means to an end, but that still didn’t stop McCraken from winning, and in fine style to boot. His final time of 1:42.45 was a new track record for 1 1/16 miles at Tampa Bay Downs.

“New track record” sounds nice, for sure, but speed ratings rather than raw time put records like these in better perspective. McCraken was awarded a BRIS Speed rating of 99, a lifetime best but not an earth-shattering one.

I get the criticism by some that McCraken’s bandwagon is filling up too fast off one prep and that he hasn’t done anything sensational to deserve such accolades. We’re still 2 1/2 months from the Kentucky Derby, and no horse is typically standing head and shoulders above the rest at this time of the season. McCraken certainly isn’t.

On the other hand, his Sam Davis performance was an encouraging sign that he’s improved off his two-year-old form and may yet continue to improve in the coming months. It was all that his long-term supporters, of which I am one, could have asked for. The bottom line is that there’s no reason, at this point, to get too high or too low (suspicious or cynical might be better terms) with regards to McCraken off this comeback performance.

McCraken will certainly face better horses down the road. Sam Davis runner-up Tapwrit was relatively unheralded despite hailing from the potent Todd Pletcher stable. Costing $1.2 million as a yearling, Tapwrit was sent to Florida early after getting thumped in his debut at Saratoga.

Perhaps it was a case of wanting to get him around two turns, but leaving New York in search of a diploma at Gulfstream Park West (nee Calder) can’t necessarily be construed as a sign of long-term confidence, nor can a placement in a grass stakes that eventually came off (i.e. $75,000 Pulpit at Gulfstream). Tapwrit does seem to be coming around, though, and at the very least merits an opportunity to show he’s worthy of that massive auction outlay.

I can’t say I’m particularly enthused about the long-term prospects of the others. No Dozing, in particular, fared poorly with no visible excuse. As someone who often finds himself gravitating toward horses that wind up being the so-called “wise guy” pick, I don’t feel particularly full of wisdom after No Dozing ran sixth all the way around the track.