Having gotten his form back on track in his most recent start, getting over the top-level hump is next on the agenda for Janis Whitham's homebred McCraken.
The multiple graded stakes-winning son of Ghostzapper recorded a half-mile breeze in :49 3/5 at Churchill Downs July 1 in preparation for a likely start in the July 30 Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park, trainer Ian Wilkes said.
McCraken's turn on the tab Saturday was his first since posting a 2 1/4-length victory in the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill June 17, an effort that halted a two-race losing skid for the colt considered one of the leaders of the 3-year-old male division earlier in the year. The desire to get McCraken a grade 1 win on his resume is what Wilkes said ultimately has his connections leaning towards a trip to the Jersey Shore for the 1 1/8-miles Haskell rather than the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga Race Course July 29.
"I'm leaning to the Haskell right now myself," Wilkes said. "Getting that grade 1 is the one thing that you want, that's one of the main reasons. There are only a couple more of them (left) for 3-year-olds and you only get so many shots."
Wilkes said that following the Haskell, he would expect to come back with his charge in the Aug. 26 Travers Stakes (G1) as part of his second-half push to reestablish McCraken as one of the divisional stalwarts.
"Oh definitely, I have to let him dictate and do the running, but I think he belongs there," Wilkes said. "The whole division can still go a lot of different ways and it's waiting for someone to take hold of it."
McCraken was unbeaten in his first four starts, including a 1 1/2-length win in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) in his seasonal bow, before running third in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1). His victory in the Matt Winn improved his record to five wins from seven starts with $472,228 in earnings.