McCraken and jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., roll to victory in the Grade III Sam F. Davis (courtesy SV Photography)
McCraken lived up to all the hype. And then some.
The unbeaten 3-year-old colt extended his record to 4-for-4 with a one-and-a-half length victory from Tapwrit in the 37th edition of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in stakes and track-record time of 1:42.45 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth. State of Honor finished third.
“He puts a lot of confidence in you, that’s for sure,” jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., said of McCraken, who staged a powerhouse rally on the turn and rolled to victory. “You’ve just got to go with it and ride him with confidence. I asked him at about the half-mile pole and he hesitated a bit, but I think that was his way of telling me ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to get the job done.’ ”
McCraken paid $5 to win as the betting favorite in the field of nine sophomores. Owner Janis Whitham of Whitham Thoroughbreds, who bred the son of Ghostzapper-Ivory Empress, by Seeking the Gold, headed a large contingent of Whithams in town to watch the race.
A crowd of 5,420 watched the lucrative Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card, which attracted total wagering handle of $9,488,679.92.
Trainer Ian Wilkes, who was an assistant to trainer Carl Nafzger for Kentucky Derby victories by Unbridled in 1990 and Street Sense in 2007, barely seemed to be concerned by getting 10 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points for the victory.
“If he’s good enough, he’ll take us there,” Wilkes said. How good is he? “I don’t know how good. But there have been some nice horses that have run a mile-and-a-sixteenth here” such as Street Sense in the 2007 Tampa Bay Derby, Wilkes said with a knowing grin.
“We’ve got a long way to go. This is not a one-race program,” Wilkes said. “I want two more races for him, then the Derby. This is just one stepping stone, and we keep building.
“Let’s pay all credit to the horse,” Wilkes added. “He’s taking us there. Let’s pay attention to him.”