LEXINGTON, KY – Whitham Thoroughbreds’ homebred McCraken, the probable favorite for Saturday’s Grade 2, $1 million Toyota Blue Grass, worked a half-mile in :49.40 over a fast main track after the Sunday morning renovation break at Keeneland.
With jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., aboard, McCraken backtracked alongside a pony to the 7/8 pole before starting his solo journey. Breaking off at the 1/2-mile pole, McCraken posted fractions of :12.60, :25, and :37, and galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.20 and six furlongs in 1:13.80.
“I thought the work was very good,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “It was a nice half and he galloped out strong another quarter, and I was pleased with how he did it.”
It was the third Keeneland work for McCraken, who missed a scheduled start in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby because of a minor injury to his left front ankle.
“He is feeling good and his attitude is great,” Wilkes said. “He is enjoying it here. He has gotten bigger and stronger since he has been here and maybe missing that race was a blessing. Things happen for a reason and we will find out in the long run.”
For Hernandez, Jr., the work capped off a whirlwind 24 hours. Yesterday, he rode Girvin to win the TwinSpires.com G2 Louisiana Derby, then drove all night with his family from New Orleans. He arrived at Keeneland in time for the work.
“It was worth it,” Hernandez said with a laugh of the 10-hour ride. “Every rider’s dream is to be in the spot I’m in.
“I’m good friends with both (connections),” he continued. “I’m happy for (trainer) Joe (Sharp), (his wife) Rosie, and (owner) Brad (Grady) to win the Louisiana Derby with Girvin, and then I get to come here to work a horse like McCraken.”
Hernandez likes what he has seen from McCraken, who launched his unblemished career last October and who has had Hernandez aboard for all four of his victories.
“He does everything right on cue now,” Hernandez said. “He goes around in perfect 12s (seconds for an eighth of a mile) and gets faster as he goes. He’s an amazing horse.
“Last year, he worked 5/8 before the (Grade 2) Kentucky Jockey Club and just went out there, but now, he is focused on the job like he wants to do it. I don’t have to force him to do anything.”