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Barn Notes: Toyota Blue Grass undefeated hopeful McCraken gets early work at Keeneland

Whitham Thoroughbreds’ undefeated graded stakes winner McCraken, who arrived at Keeneland on Thursday to begin preparations for the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G2) on April 8, worked five furlongs in one minute flat Monday with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard.

The time was the fastest of seven works at the distance.

Keeneland clockers caught McCraken in fractions of :12.60, :26.20, 37.20, :48.20 and 1:00 and galloping out in 1:12.80.

“It was a maintenance work, just what we were looking for,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “Everything’s good.”

McCraken has won all four of his races, taking the Kentucky Jockey Cub (G2) and Street Sense at Churchill Downs last year. On Feb. 11, he scored a 1½-length victory in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in his 2017 debut. A minor ankle strain kept the colt from his next scheduled start in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 11.

“Maybe missing that race was a blessing,” Wilkes said. “He’s a different horse. He’s filled out, stronger. Things happen for a reason. You may not agree at the time; you may not want it to happen. But things happen for a reason. I think he’s a bigger, stronger horse right now. Just in that short time, he changed on me. Maybe (missing the race) was a good thing.”

Wilkes has 16 stalls at Keeneland, where his horses were among the first to arrive when the main stable area opened March 16. He also has a string at Churchill, where he said McCraken will head after the Toyota Blue Grass.

“We decided to come up a bit early and get him a few works over the track here,” Wilkes said about McCraken’s schedule. “I wanted to get him up here to get him acclimated, a little cooler weather. The horses love it.”

Wilkes said McCraken likely would work again Sunday or Monday. “We’ll see how he does through the week,” he said.

On Monday, McCraken’s year-older half-brother, Bondurant, also worked, covering a half-mile in :48. Wilkes is aiming the son of War Front, second in Gulfstream’s Canadian Turf (G3) on March 4, at the $300,000 Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) at Keeneland on April 14.

Another Wilkes runner at Keeneland is Lothenbach Stables’ stakes winner Sonic Boom, who is to run in the Transylvania (G3) Presented by Keeneland Select on April 7, opening day of the Spring Meet.


Keeneland’s 15-day Spring Meet, to be held April 7-28, will offer racing Wednesdays through Sundays except Easter Sunday, April 16. Post time for the first race every day is 1:05 p.m. ET.

The Toyota Blue Grass and $500,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1) for 3-year-old fillies headline a blockbuster day of racing on April 8 that includes three other graded stakes for top older horses: the $300,000 Madison (G1), for fillies and mares at seven furlongs; $200,000 Shakertown (G2), for 3-year-olds and up at 5½ furlongs on the turf; and $250,000 Commonwealth (G3), for older horses over seven furlongs.

On Wednesday, late nominations for the Toyota Blue Grass and Central Bank Ashland are due as are nominations to the Madison, Shakertown and Commonwealth, April 7 Transylvania Presented by Keeneland Select and April 9 Adena Springs Beaumont (G3).
Post positions for the Toyota Blue Grass and Central Bank Ashland will be drawn Tuesday, April 4 in a brunch in the Keeneland Sales Pavilion.


NBC Sports Network will provide live coverage of the Toyota Blue Grass, along with the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct and Santa Anita Derby (G1), from 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET. Post time for the Toyota Blue Grass is 6:17 p.m.

From Keeneland Communications

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