By Ben Massam
Whitham Thoroughbreds’ ‘TDN Rising Star’ McCraken (Ghostzapper), winner of his first four career starts prior to some rough sailing this spring, has the opportunity to kick start the second half of his sophomore campaign as the heavy favorite in Saturday evening’s GIII Matt Winn S. at Churchill Downs. The bay has plenty of familiarity with the local strip, having won his first three starts there as a juvenile–culminating with a decisive score in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. in late November.
Everything went according to plan for the Ian Wilkes charge leading up to his victorious 3-year-old bow in the GIII Sam F. Davis S. at Tampa Bay, but after being forced to miss time with a mild ankle strain, McCraken missed an expected start in the GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and was instead re-routed to Keeneland’s Apr. 8 GII Toyota Blue Grass S., where he finished an even third. The misfortune continued in the May 6 GI Kentucky Derby, when McCraken was slammed at the start and never able to get involved in an eighth-place finish over a sealed track. He emerged from that effort with a cut on his left hind leg and was forced to skip the remaining legs of the Triple Crown. Now with four local workouts under his belt, the colt appears poised to reach the winner’s circle beneath the Twin Spires and prepare for a return to the highest level this summer.
“He’s been doing great,” Wilkes told the Churchill notes team. “It was very frustrating with the cut he suffered in the Derby. It took a long time to heal and get him back to where he’s comfortable. It’s still not completely healed but it doesn’t bother him at all to run. We were once at the top of the 3-year-old list but now we need to prove ourselves again.”
BCWT Ltd.’s Society Beau (Curlin) is the only one of McCraken’s five rivals to own a previous victory around the Matt Winn’s two-turn trip. The Neil Howard trainee was most recently sixth in the restricted Sir Barton S. at Pimlico May 20. Earlier on that same GI Preakness S. undercard, Zayat Stables’ Aquamarine (Gemologist) finished a good second behind ‘TDN Rising Star’ Recruiting Ready (Algorithms) in the six-furlong Chick Lang S.