McCraken will miss the Tampa Bay Derby with a slight ankle strain.

McCraken will miss the Tampa Bay Derby with a slight ankle strain.

Joe DiOrio

McCraken to Miss Tampa Bay Derby With Ankle Strain

Start in Toyota Blue Grass Stakes likely for colt's final prep race

Unbeaten multiple graded stakes winner McCraken will miss the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) March 11 after emerging from a four-furlong move Feb. 27 with a slight strain to his left front ankle.

Trainer Ian Wilkes said the son of Ghostzapper  cooled out in good order Monday after covering a half mile in :48.90 at Palm Meadows Training Center—the colt's first move since capturing the Feb. 11 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) in track-record setting fashion at Tampa Bay Downs—and that the strain was discovered the morning of Feb. 28.

X-rays on the ankle were clean, according to Wilkes, and the plan is to point McCraken to the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland in April for his final prep on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

"He worked yesterday, he worked great. This morning he just had a slight strain," Wilkes said. "I just feel like ... the horse comes first. And I don't want to come back and work him next week for the Tampa Bay Derby. If I have to miss a race, I would rather miss this one, take care of the horse, get him right and run him in the Blue Grass.

"I'm just going to do what's right by the horse. He's taken us this far and taken care of me. So now I need to take care of him and not do something stupid. But I really feel good, I think we'll be fine."

Though Wilkes hoped to get three prep races into McCraken leading into the first Saturday in May, he takes comfort in the already solid foundation Janis Whitham's homebred has in his four career starts. The bay colt won all three of his starts as a juvenile, including a triumph in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs Nov. 26, and he handled the Tampa Bay Downs surface in the Sam F. Davis which can be a tiring one that can put fitness into a runner in quick order.

"I've always had three preps in mind for him but you always allow yourself some room because ... had we planned on just two preps and something goes wrong like this later in the preparation, now I'm (out of luck)," Wilkes said. "This way, I'm still on target, everything is good. It's just a minor hiccup. But if this is the worst thing that happens, I'll be okay."

McCraken's 1 1/2-length win in the Sam F. Davis was his first start outside of Churchill Downs and improved his earnings to $310,848.

"This is a minor setback, but these things happen when you train horses," Wilkes said.