"I've just got to stay out of his way and let him take me," Wilkes said Feb. 12.
The unbeaten 3-year-old colt raised his connections' optimism several notches Feb. 11 at Tampa Bay Downs, where he won the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) by 1 1/2 lengths.
Wilkes said it is likely McCraken will return for the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
"You can't lock yourself into one place, but the timing is good to come back," he said.
The son of Ghostzapper —Ivory Empress, by Seeking the Gold, is a homebred racing for the Whitham Thoroughbreds operation of Janis Whitham.
McCraken, named after a city in Kansas (spelled "McCracken") about 110 miles from Whitham's hometown of Leoti, returned to Wilkes' Palm Meadows Training Center base in Boynton Beach, Fla., Saturday night. Wilkes said the colt walked and had a bath this morning and all signs are positive.
"It's just a good thing to get him back in action and get him going as a 3-year-old, and the way he ran makes you feel like he proved a little more," Wilkes said. "A lot of 3-year-olds on the Derby trail keep getting better and bigger and stronger this time of year, so we have to keep going.
"I've always said he's going to take me to (the Kentucky Derby) if he's good enough, and it's exciting any time you have a horse with Derby potential."
Should McCraken get back to Churchill, where he was undefeated in three starts last year, he would be Wilkes' first starter in the Derby. But Wilkes was a part of Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger's two victories in the Run for the Roses. The first came with Unbridled in 1990, but he played an even larger role in the development of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense , who won the Tampa Bay Derby before his Louisville triumph.
Street Sense and Super Saver (2010), who finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby, are the only Kentucky Derby winners to prepare at Tampa Bay.
Tapwrit, who came in second in the Sam F. Davis, could also return for the Tampa Bay Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday.
"He's improving all the time," said Pletcher, who could also bring his 5-year-old mare Isabella Sings back to Tampa for the $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes (G2T) after her Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (G3T) victory. "I will get with the connections, but both are possible for March 11."
No Dozing, the third choice in the Sam F. Davis, never found his best stride and finished sixth. Trainer Arnaud Delacour said the Remsen Stakes (G2) runner-up came back in fine fettle and offered no excuses for his dull performance.
"He seems fine. He just had a bad race, but I don't really know why," Delacour said. "We'll see in the next couple of days. I'm a little disappointed, but we still would consider the Tampa Bay Derby if he breezes well. He needs to show me there are no problems."