Wilkes Off To Great Start at Current Churchill Downs Meet; McCraken Set for Met Mile Next

Trainer Ian Wilkes
Gene McLean (right) and Trainer Ian Wilkes talk about McCracken. Photo courtesy Aaron Bacon.

Ian Wilkes is one of the nicest people you will ever meet in this walk through life. You congratulate him on a nice win, and he will quickly respond with his normal refrain:

“Thanks mate.”

That phrase comes naturally for the native of Australia. But the sentiment does, too. And, lucky for all of us who have gotten the opportunity to know him and watch him, he trains his horses just the way he lives his life, and treats everyone he comes in contact with — from the heart.

So, it is easy to root for the man and the stable. And, so far this meet at Churchill Downs, there has been a lot to root for. After Sunday’s races were completed, Ian Wilkes stood alone at the top of the current Trainer’s Standings.

After the first 25 mounts this meet, Wilkes, and his lovely wife Tracey, who doubles as one of his top exercise riders and chief assistants, have made 7 trips to the winner’s circle. In addition, they have 3 seconds and a third.

To date, they have earned over $312,000 in purse money for their clients, and they have a win percentage of .28% and have hit the board .44% of the time.

Not bad, mate.

One of those wins in the mix came on Kentucky Derby Day with the mega-talented Ghostzapper colt McCraken. Just a year ago, he was one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately for all, though, the colt was stepped on leaving the gate and severely injured.

Only time and love got the horse back to running last summer, and he nearly captured the G1 Haskell Stakes, before he was nipped at the wire by the fast-closing Girvin.

This year, though, Wilkes has announced plans to try to focus on 1-mile races for McCraken. And, that plan got off to a flying start on Derby Day. Wilkes worked the colt on Tuesday morning, and now is planning on shipping him up to New York for the Met Mile in his next start.

After the work this morning, I texted the affable trainer to check on the colt’s condition and make sure he exited the exercise in good order. Quickly, I got the reply:

“Yes. Met Mile.”

When I responded with applause, Wilkes texted back:

“Thanks mate.”

It’s going to be a good day.

Wilkes’ lead in the Trainer’s race is slim, though. Hovering in second place is HOF trainer Steve Asmussen, who normally runs a lot more horses at this meet than Wilkes. But in the same number of mounts to date, Asmussen and his able assist Scott Blasi have saddled 6 winners, with 3 seconds and 2 thirds.

Another win back in third are Lexington natives George “Rusty” Arnold and Kenny McPeek — with five wins each.

Here is a closer look at the Top 25 Trainers at Churchill Downs:

Bob Baffert10112$1,510,49310%40%
2Chad C. Brown11132$851,9889%55%
3Brad H. Cox22324$801,72714%41%
4Mark E. Casse24244$582,0138%42%
5Todd A. Pletcher15221$511,95213%33%
6William I. Mott14223$419,11514%50%
7Steven M. Asmussen25632$355,05124%44%
8George R. Arnold, II13522$348,33338%69%
9Ben Colebrook10210$347,25820%30%
10Brendan P. Walsh16332$321,49219%50%
11Ian R. Wilkes25731$312,48028%44%
12Simon Callaghan2100$185,28050%50%
13Albert M. Stall, Jr.13442$159,85031%77%
14Kenneth G. McPeek16522$159,29131%56%
15Neil D. Drysdale3200$155,66067%67%
16D. Wayne Lukas11021$139,8340%27%
17Michael J. Maker17403$136,89024%41%
18Eddie Kenneally8401$135,38250%63%
19Dallas Stewart14213$119,65414%43%
20Joe Sharp10303$115,10830%60%
21Dale L. Romans19231$100,53811%32%
22Jerry Hollendorfer1000$100,0000%0%
23Wayne M. Catalano7131$99,14514%71%
24William Spawr2001$94,0000%50%
25Thomas M. Amoss15230$91,59513%33%

 

 

This horse ran a tremendous race,” said Smith, who at 52 is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown. “He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. He’s just amazing.

“Did you see him standing in the gate?” added Smith, sporting the red-and-gold silks of China Horse Club after having worn the white-and-green colors of WinStar Farm in the Derby and Preakness. “He’s standing so still … I actually thought, ‘He’s not going to break today.’ I mean, he left there like he was going 440 yards in Ruidoso, New Mexico.”

Mike Smith, Jockey of Justify
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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