Undefeated McCraken Makes Seasonal Debut in Sam F. Davis
By Jordan Sigmon
Trainer Ian Wilkes knows a thing or two about getting a horse right for the Kentucky Derby (GI); he played a major role in the development of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense when working as an assistant to Carl Nafzger and now he’s found himself back on the Road to the Roses, this time as the head trainer for the undefeated colt McCraken for longtime clients Whitham Thoroughbreds LLC in Saturday’s $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs.
McCraken is a son of Ghostzapper and has shown a high level of professionalism in his three victories, all of which came at Churchill Downs. Debuting in early October, McCraken sat behind horses and powered away to an easy 2 ½-length win, covering the 6 ½-furlong distance in 1:17. 98. Stretching out around two-turns for the first time, he made his next start four weeks later in, ironically, the Street Sense Stakes at one mile. Like in his debut, he sat off the pace and circled the field late to win by 3 ¼ lengths.
McCraken’s graded stakes debut came at the end of November in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII), going the same 1 1/16-mile distance of the Sam F. Davis. Assuming his customary position at the back of the field, McCraken closed into a hot pace for a 1 ¼-length victory. Since that race, he has been working steadily at his winter base of Palm Meadows in South Florida. Being the lone graded stakes winner in the field makes McCraken a clear favorite. However, he does not lack solid opposition.
Two of McCraken’s biggest rivals are likely to come at the hands of Todd Pletcher, who will saddle the talented duo of Tapwrit and Fact Finding. The latter of those two has one big thing in common with the favorite — he’s undefeated through his first three races. Owned by Michael B. Tabor, M. V. Magnier, Derrick Smith and Stonestreet Stables LLC, Fact Finding debuted going six furlongs at Saratoga in August of last year and has increased in distance with each start since. His most recent victory came going a mile on a sloppy track at Gulfstream when powering to a seven-length victory in the Smooth Air Stakes.
Fact Finding’s stablemate, Tapwrit, will be wearing the colors of Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert V. LaPenta. The $1.2 million son of Tapit was a distant tenth in his debut at Saratoga last August but has since rattled off two straight victories going a mile.
Mark Casse has two horses in the race, both of which drew the inside two stalls in the starting gate. Conrad Farms’ State of Honor is the only one of the pair to have raced on dirt, losing by a head to Sonic Mule in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park last out. King and His Court, owned by Wachtel Stable and Gary Barber, is one of the early favorites for this year’s Queen’s Plate but is giving dirt a try to keep his spring campaign options open.
Rounding out the field is the graded stakes-placed pair of Wild Shot, trained by Rusty Arnold and owned by Calumet Farm, and No Dozing, who runs for Lael Stables under the care of Arnaud Delacour. The local horses Six Gun Salute and Chance of Luck complete the field of nine.
The Sam F. Davis, run at 1 1/16 miles, is carded as the 10th race on the Saturday program at Tampa Bay Downs with an approximate post time of 4:45 pm ET.
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