Unbeaten from four starts, McCraken will face his toughest test yet when he lines up for Saturday’s $1 million Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland. The early Kentucky Derby favorite will face six rivals, including three last-out stakes winners, and has been installed as the 7-5 favorite on the morning line.
The 1 1/8-mile qualifier offers points on a 100-40-20-10 scale toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Trained by Ian Wilkes and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., McCraken concluded his juvenile season with a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs. He came back to capture the February 11 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in his sophomore opener but was forced to miss a scheduled start in the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) due to an ankle strain.
After a short absence from the worktab, McCraken resumed serious training four weeks ago and the Ghostzapper colt has lodged a quartet of moves in advance of the Blue Grass, including a 6-furlong drill at Keeneland. The late runner appears set for his best from post 2 but there isn’t a lot of pace entered in the Blue Grass.
Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit comes next on the morning line at 5-2. Trainer Todd Pletcher is gearing up for a major assault upon the Kentucky Derby, with numerous prospects pointing toward the first Saturday in May, and Tapwrit can solidify his standing as a serious contender with a strong showing.
The gray son of Tapit has captured three of his last four starts, the lone setback being a runner-up to McCraken in his graded stakes debut, and Tapwrit will try to keep showing more with regular rider Jose Ortiz.
Practical Joke is eligible to improve upon a runner-up effort in his 2017 bow, the March 4 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park. And the Chad Brown trainee must run better to establish himself as legitimate threat on Derby Day. Winner of the Champagne (G1) and Hopeful (G1), the Into Mischief colt concluded last year with a respectable third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Joel Rosario, who up for the final two juvenile appearances, retakes the mount on the 7-2 third choice.
The Blue Grass represents a litmus test for J Boys Echo, who will look to back up a smashing 3 ½-length victory in the Gotham (G3). He received a perfect trip versus questionable competition last time but the Dale Romans representative did register a field-best 104 BRIS Speed rating. The Mineshaft colt won’t have a heated duel to set up his late run and we’ll find out whether he can transfer his form against better competition without ideal conditions. J Boys Echo is 4-1 with Robby Albarado.
Wild Shot has placed in three graded events for Rusty Arnold, including most recently a Tampa Bay Derby third, and will try to improve his Kentucky Derby standing. Corey Lanerie rides. It’s Your Nickel is by the up-and-coming sire Dialed In, but the Kenny McPeek-conditioned colt has only won on turf and Polytrack and faces a serious class check off a slow win in the March 4 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway. James Graham has the return call. Irap completes the field. Winless from seven career outings, the Tiznow colt has finished second in three graded races and he wheels right back for trainer Doug O’Neill off a fourth in the Sunland Derby (G3) 13 days ago. Julien Leparoux picks up the assignment.