By Jim Freer
McCraken has a slight strain to his left front ankle and will not run in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2) at Tampa Bay Downs on March 11, the 3-year-old colt’s trainer Ian Wilkes said on Tuesday.
In an article in BloodhorseDaily Wilkes called the injury “a minor setback.
He said he plans to point McCraken to the 1 1/8 mile Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 2) at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., on April 15 as his final prep for the 1 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby (Grade 1). The Kentucky Derby will be run May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
The unbeaten McCraken almost certainly would have been favored in the Tampa Bay Derby, a 1 1/16 mile dirt race that is a key prep for the Kentucky Derby.
On its Twitter page Tuesday, Tampa Bay Downs gave a “thumbs up” to Wilkes’ comment that he wants to do “what is good for the horse.”
Wednesday morning, the Tampa Bay Downs media office told us: “Suddenly, it appears to be a much more wide-open race. We are hoping for a full field and we wish McCraken and his connections the best moving forward.”
March 11 Races
However, McCraken’s injury will undoubtedly take some of the luster from what was shaping up as one of the biggest days in the history of Tampa Bay Downs.
March 11 is the Oldsmar track’s annual Festival Day, with the Tampa Bay Derby and four other stakes races.
McCraken won the $250,000 Sam F. Davis (Grade 3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 11, setting a track record 1:42.45 for 1 1/16 miles (photo on home page courtesy of Tampa Bay Downs).
McCraken is first on many analysts’ lists of Kentucky Derby contenders, and his presence would have generated huge national publicity from the racing press. Festival Day also was looming as one of the biggest days ever for handle and attendance at Tampa Bay Downs.
On the plus side, the second through fourth place finishers from the Sam F. Davis are expected back for the Tampa Bay Derby. They are Tapwrit, State of Honor and Wild Shot. The highly regarded No Dozing, sixth in the Sam F. Davis, also is likely to run in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Entries for the Tampa Bay Derby and other March 11 races will be announced on Wednesday March 8.
Wilkes said the strain in McCraken’s ankle was discovered on Tuesday morning and that X-rays were clean.
On Monday, McCraken worked four furlongs in 48.90 seconds at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach. The son of Ghostzapper cooled out in good order after the workout. Wilkes said.
“Horse Comes First”
It was McCraken’s first workout since the Sam F. Davis.
“He worked yesterday,” Wilkes said. “He worked great. This morning he just had a slight strain.”
Wilkes added: “I just feel like… the horse comes first. And I don’t want to come back and work him next week
for the Tampa Bay Derby. If I have to miss a race, I would rather miss this one, take care of the horse, get him right, and run him in the Blue Grass.”
McCraken will probably need to finish third or better in the Blue Grass to get into the Kentucky Derby.
The Derby’s 20 starting spots are reserved for pre-entered horse with the most points in “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying races. There are 34 races in the United States, one in Dubai and two in Japan.
Last year, the cutoff was 32 points—the highest in the first five years for that qualifying system.
McCraken has 20 qualifying points
As a final round qualifying race. The Blue Grass awards 100 points to the winner. Second through fourth place are worth 40, 20 and ten points respectively.
Thus, finishing third or higher would get McCraken into the Kentucky Derby.
McCraken earned ten points each for his wins in the Sam F. Davis and in the Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade 2) last Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs.
The Tampa Bay Derby is a second round race, with 50 points for the winner. Second through fourth are worth 20, ten and five points.
Thus, the winner (if he stays healthy) will be assured a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Though Wilkes hoped to get three 2017 prep races into McCraken leading into the Kentucky Derby, he takes comfort in the already solid foundation Janis Whitham’s homebred has in his four career starts.
The bay colt won all three of his starts as a juvenile. His win in the Sam F. Davis was his first 2017 race and first start outside of Churchill Downs.
For all the upcoming news leading up to this year’s Kentucky Derby, May 6th – stay tuned to our dedicated page, Derby Trail, at this link.