Ladies and gentleman there are less than 11 days until those starting gates open for the 143rd Running of the Kentucky Derby. One thing is for certain, this year the tepidity surrounding favoritism can be felt from coast to coast. Typically, among everyday handicappers you will get a sense of a “hot horse” on people’s radar; for example, Orb in 2013. This year I just don’t feel that sentiment among the smart brains in the sport. It seems like everyone likes a different horse, they all have varying value lines on where certain horses should be, and it just means it is going to be a fantastic betting race. I took a little break on breaking down horses, but let’s get back it, with the limited time we have until post positions are drawn, I will write as many as possible leading up to the day of the official post-position draw, and here we go with today’s first choice equine, Crack-a-lack-lack-lack!!! Ernie McCracken is back. Well, I don’t know this, but it would be great if this horse is named after the character in the long lost comedy, Kingpin, starring Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray. I doubt the horse is named after that character, but maybe the 3-year-old equine has the edge of champion. Here is his breakdown…
McCraken (Ghostzapper – Ivory Empress, Awesome Again)
One considered the favorite to win the Derby prior to his skipped start in the Tampa Bay Derby and then what was an okay effort on the comeback in the Blue Grass. To be honest, I wanted to see a lot more out of McCraken in the Blue Grass than the effort he put forth. I understand that he had not raced since February, but the horse won in his 2-year-old debut, isn’t that technically the longest layoff of all? Either way, you have to grade the race on a few factors, McCraken is a closer/deep closer, the pace in the Blue Grass was pretty slow, but then we need to grade how well the front-running speed types finished the race – Wild Shot set a semi-pressured pace with Irap to his outside, even so, the half-mile fraction was :48.1, and that was not too fast at all. Then lets take into account, the winner Irap, did not change leads until he was a furlong past the finish line. In other words, he was a very tired horse, and he couldn’t be passed by Practical Joke or McCraken – Both who were supposedly two of the most elite closers in the 3-year-old class. So we need to ask ourselves the following questions – Was Irap just that good? Or, was the pace set up just too slow for McCraken to overcome in his first start back off a layoff.
Ghostzapper – He was a late developing 2-year-old and due to his ankles not being fully developed, late trainer Bobby Frankel, held him out of 2003 Triple Crown races. Crushed older horses in his last career start as a 3-year-old winning by more than six lengths in the G1 – Vosburgh.
Ended up having a very successful 4-year-old season after being delayed by a leg injury and wound winning Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the front end.
So in terms of McCraken getting strengths from Ghostzapper, you would have to say that he has attained the distance pedigree but he has lacked showing any form of true speed. In other terms, we saw him run into a field that lacked pace in his last start, and he ran 3rd behind what some have deemed a soft ground and a blah Blue Grass.
Even so, when we compare him to that of his sire Ghostzapper, keep in mind his sire had to return from injury, McCraken is returning from injury. Ghostzapper won off injury and McCraken did not but he should get better off that effort. How much better? Not sure yet, I would like to see his last work leading up to the race, and his physical condition. As far as his sire is concerned, I would give him a B-, he gets the distance but has failed to show the speed brought forth in his male line.
FEMALE LINE: Dam – Ivory Empress
There isn’t a certain race type evident in the first few generations of his dam line. They all have done well on a variety of surfaces and classes across the board. She was blacktype stakes earning sprinter. She has produced two BTSW runners.
With the amount of speed that should have translated to McCraken from his dam line and directly from his sire Ghostzapper, it’s rather amazing that he runs to love from as far back as he does.
All that said, he definitely has shown solid late speed and a very good closing kick much like a turf horse. It will be interesting to see what kind of pace scenario develops out of the 20 horses entered in the Derby.
It’s still too early to declare it a speed-heavy or a race lacking speed, but I think that McCraken definitely gets positives from his female line when it comes to length and stamina. Even though his direct dam did her best sprinting, she has had her half-sister Mea Domina do well winning four turf stakes and also GSW in the Gamely BC Handicap (G1).
McCraken should also get the large heart gene from the dam side with Buckpasser being prominent.
OUTLOOK: McCraken’s post position should be of relative unimportance as long as he doesn’t get stuck down on the rail or extremely far out to get hung wide early. The reason I say this is he should be well back early, but he also wants to gain position to save ground. If he breaks somewhere between 4 and 10, I think that would be ideal, but not necessary.
I am not a huge fan of his moving into Derby week here soon, but I do think he has the necessary tools to run a very good race. He has the trainer and if he can be instinctive get solid position and start his run a little bit earlier than people expect, he could be very dangerous. Our most recent Derby winners have all had solid position leaving the far turn, it’s just hard to believe that McCraken will have good position with his running style. On the other hand, I never saw him coming from where he did in the Sam F. Davis, he loomed boldly on that difficult to close wide on Tampa surface and did it with ease. A lot depends on the coming week, check back for more news. And did I say odds, it’s hard to gauge this one, I am going to guess in the 8-1 range. At double digits, I think he presents value.