December 7, 2023

McCraken stretches out again for Cornhusker

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

After the reported withdrawal of Dr. Dorr from Friday night’s $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker H. (G3), McCraken figures to inherit the favorite’s role in the  feature of Prairie Meadows’ two-day Festival of Racing.

A prominent graded performer at two and three, the now four-year-old Ian Wilkes-trained colt will attempt to win for the first time over nine furlongs. His best try in five attempts at the distance or farther was a nose loss to Girvin in last summer’s Haskell Invitational (G1).

McCraken kicked off his 2018 campaign with an allowance score over a mile at Churchill on the Kentucky Derby undercard, a performance that leant credence to the suspicion that the son of Ghostzapper might be more formidable around one turn. Against some of the best one-turn milers in the country, however, McCraken was left wanting in last month’s Metropolitan H. (G1), finishing sixth to the victorious Bee Jersey by seven lengths.

The Bob Baffert-trained Dr. Dorr would likely have served as pacesetter in the Cornhusker. Instead, that job might go to another California-based entrant, Dalmore, who romped in allowance company at Santa Anita in February but faded to fourth in the Essex H. at Oaklawn when last seen in mid-March.

Thirstforlife, second in the Mineshaft H. (G3) back in February in a rare stakes try, enters the Cornhusker off back-to-back allowance scores at Churchill for Wes Hawley. Another coming off a solid effort at the Louisville track is Matrooh, who outran his 68-1 price when third in the Stephen Foster H. (G1). Previously, the eight-year-old former claimer had won the Hanshin Cup (G3) at Arlington over the Polytrack for his third straight win.

Irish Freedom, formerly based in Southern California with Bob Baffert, for whom he placed in last fall’s Native Diver (G3), has run third and first in a pair of Churchill allowances since moving to the Brad Cox barn. Hence, meanwhile, has been well beaten in four starts over the past 12 months, but took to this surface at this time a year ago when he was a rallying winner of the Iowa Derby (G3).

Despite being downgraded from a Grade 3 to Listed status this season, the $250,000 Iowa Derby at 1 1/16 miles attracted a competitive field of eight three-year-olds.

Mr Freeze, two-for-two to start his career for Dale Romans, must fend off several worthy candidates, including High North and The Tabulator. High North improved greatly adding blinkers for the April 14 Northern Spur at Oaklawn, which he won by by more than two lengths, but the Shortleaf Stable-owned colt faded to fourth in the Peter Pan (G2) last out after racing closer to the pace than usual early.

That Tabulator, who captured the 1 1/16-mile Iroquois (G3) last fall, kicked off his 2018 campaign with a 6 1/4-length win in the six-furlong Golden Circle at Prairie on May 3. He, too, struggled last time at Belmont, finishing seventh in the Woody Stephens (G2).

Lionite enters off a romping win in the Prairie Mile for Steve Asmussen, a three-time Iowa Derby winner, while Cool Bobby makes his first start for Peter Eurton since a maiden win at Del Mar in November.

The $100,000 Iowa Sprint features multiple stakes winners Apprehender and Wilbo, both of whom have placed in previous editions of the six-furlong dash. Westfest and Done Deal, both exiting allowance wins at Churchill, are also in the cast.