Trainer Ian Wilkes is gearing up for a busy Stephen Foster Handicap night with five entrants in four different stakes races. Wilkes is scheduled to lead the charge with Alysheba (Grade I) winner Bird Song as he is set to take on Dubai World Cup (GI) runner-up Gun Runner in the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by GE Appliances (GI).
Bird Song breezed five furlongs in 1:02 Sunday morning at Churchill Downs. Regular rider Julien Leparoux has the call again on Saturday night.
“He’s a speedy horse,” Wilkes said. “We can’t really worry about anyone else in the race, just run to what we’re good at doing. We know the talent level of some of the other competitors but at the end of the day we just need to do our thing and hope it works.”
Janis Whitham’s Walkabout, a 4-year-old daughter by Stoll, is set to ride a two-race win streak into the $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap Presented by el Jimador (GII) after breezing five furlongs in 1:01.40 at 6 a.m. Sunday.
“She’s an improving filly,” Wilkes said. “She’s really been coming into her own as of late. Her last win in the Matron (GIII) was very gutsy. Whenever we have a homebred for Mrs. Whitham, we get excited to run them in a race like this. She’s done so much for the game and this filly has been doing very well.”
A star on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, McCraken disappointed after finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby (GI) but Wilkes is excited to have the 3-year-old colt by Ghostzapper back on track for the $100,000 Matt Winn (GIII).
“He’s been doing great,” Wilkes said. “It was very frustrating with the cut he suffered in the Derby. It took a long time to heal and get him back to where he’s comfortable. It’s still not completely healed but it doesn’t bother him at all to run. We were once at the top of the 3-year-old list but now we need to prove ourselves again.”
McCraken, ridden by regular jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20 inside of stablemate Fifth Title at 7:15 a.m. Sunday.
Wilkes has a pair of entrants scheduled for the $200,000 Wise Dan (GII) in multiple graded stakes-placed Bondurant (McCraken’s older half-brother) and 2016 River City Handicap (GIII) winner Thatcher Street.
“Both of these horses have been doing well,” Wilkes said. “Bondurant does his best running late. We’ll have to see who enters in the race and what the pace scenario looks like on paper.”
Bondurant breezed five furlongs at 6:45 a.m. Sunday at Churchill Downs in 1:00.20.
Wilkes’ other Wise Dan entrant, 6-year-old gelding Thatcher Street, is based at Skylight Training Center, located about 30 miles east of Churchill Downs in Goshen, Ky.
“Thatcher Street just thrives at Skylight,” Wilkes said. “We have a string of horses there and it’s so different than the hustle and bustle of all the horses stabled at Churchill. Some horses just seem to do better that way and he’s always loved it out there.”
Wilkes began Sunday tied with Tom Amoss for fourth in the Churchill Downs trainer standings with 11 wins. Steve Asmussen leads the way with 15 victories and Brad Cox and Brendan Walsh are tied for second with 12 wins apiece.
With two stakes win at the meet – Bird Song in the Alysheba and Walkabout in the Matron – Wilkes became only the 15th trainer in Churchill Downs history to win 20 career stakes races at the home of the Kentucky Derby.
Source: Churchill Downs