Whitham Thoroughbred’s Grade 1, $ 1.25 million Travers presented by NYRA Bets candidate McCraken turned in a four-furlong “maintenance work” on Thursday morning over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga Race Course, his first serious bit of training since finishing a close second in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.
Hitting the track shortly after 6 a.m., the multiple graded stakes winner breezed a solo half-mile under regular exercise rider Yoni Orantes in 49.03 seconds, the fastest of 31 at the distance.
“It was just a maintenance work,” said trainer Ian Wilkes. “The horse is happy, he’s doing well. We just wanted to let him stretch his legs.
“I’m very pleased with how he’s come out [of the Haskell],” he added. “From what I’ve seen, he hasn’t left an oat. His energy is very good. He’s extremely happy. I feel like he’s moved forward from that race.”
McCraken could be on course for a rematch in the “Mid-Summer Derby” with Haskell victor Girvin, who nipped the 3-year-old Ghostzapper colt to win by a nose on July 30 at Monmouth Park. Prior to the Haskell, McCraken rebounded from an eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby with a 2 ¼-length victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn in June at Churchill Downs.
McCraken was undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old, including a 1 ¼-length win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. He carried his win streak into his 3-year-old seasonal debut in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in February before a minor injury pushed his next start back nearly two months, eventually marking his return with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Blue Grass on April 8.
“He’s very talented,” said Wilkes. “He’s a little bigger, a little stronger. He’s starting to mature more. He’s gotten into a nice rhythm now.”
McCraken, Wilkes said, could work twice more in the 16 days leading up to the Travers on August 26.
“Just don’t ask me when,” he added. “I like to get into a rhythm and the horse tells me when he’s ready to work. I wasn’t going to work today, I was going to wait until tomorrow but the horse was ready today.”
Wilkes could have a strong stakes contender on the Travers Day undercard in Grade 2 Alysheba winner Bird Song, currently under consideration for the Grade 1, $ 600,000 Forego, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
In his most recent start, Bird Song, a 4-year-old colt by Unbridled’s Song, cut back considerably in distance following an eighth-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Stephen Foster to six furlongs in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt on July 29, where he raced wide to finish fourth, 9 ¼ lengths behind front-running winner El Deal.
“I think he’s going to be better shorter and around one turn,” said Wilkes. “I think he’s going to be best at seven-eighths to a mile. I don’t think he wants to go past that. He came out of [the Vanderbilt] good, he’s moving forward. We’ll nominate [to the Forego], look at it, and just see how he trains up to it.”
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