McCraken’s pedigree: three Breeders’ Cup Classic heroes and a homebred family

Jan 31, 2017 Kellie Reilly/

You could say that Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful McCraken is bred for a classic. In his case, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) factors prominently in his pedigree.

Contested over the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles, at rotating host tracks, the Breeders’ Cup Classic has served as the U.S. fall championship since its inception in 1984. So it’s remarkable that McCraken has three Breeders’ Cup Classic winners close up in his pedigree, and another who just missed in the lucrative event.

McCraken is by Hall of Famer Ghostzapper, hero of the 2004 Classic at Lone Star Park in sensational front-running fashion. Not only did he set a new track record of 1:59.02, but his mark still stands as the fastest Breeders’ Cup Classic ever.

Ghostzapper is himself the son of a Breeders’ Cup Classic star in Awesome Again, who toppled arguably the deepest field in the race’s history in 1998 at Churchill Downs.

The dynamic father-son duo had different profiles going into their Classic bids. Awesome Again was already proven at the distance. Ghostzapper, in contrast, made a name for himself in major sprint races before stretching out, and the Classic was his first (and turned out to be only) attempt at the trip. Given the brilliant times Ghostzapper had turned in going shorter, it was the sign of a truly great horse to carry high speed over the American classic distance.

At stud, Ghostzapper has continued the theme of versatility that transcends categories. He’s sired one-turn specialists like champion female sprinter Judy the Beauty, millionaire turf milers like Better Lucky and Za Approval, as well as performers who excel over a route of ground like Canadian champions Shaman Ghost and Hunters Bay and $2.9 million-earner Moreno.

Ghostzapper’s son Shaman Ghost is a particularly interesting case because he stays much farther than you’d expect. Despite being out of a speed-oriented mare, Shaman Ghost won the 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate in 2015 and the 1 1/2-mile Brooklyn H. (G2) last summer. At the same time, Shaman Ghost is no plodder, since he also took the Woodward (G1) and finished second in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup (G1), both at 1 1/8 miles.

McCraken’s dam, Ivory Empress, furnishes two more Breeders’ Cup Classic connections. Her sire, Seeking the Gold, was runner-up to Hall of Famer Alysheba in the 1988 Classic at Churchill Downs, and her broodmare sire, Wild Again, famously upset the inaugural running in a dramatic three-way finish at old Hollywood Park.

Ivory Empress didn’t display their routing ability on the track. Instead, she spent most of her career sprinting, notably finishing second in the Endine (G3) on the dirt at Delaware Park and the Unbridled Sidney on the Churchill turf.

Off to a fine start as a broodmare, Ivory Empress is two-for-two so far. Her first foal, Bondurant, is a promising type who missed by a neck in last November’s Commonwealth Turf (G3) at Churchill.

In that respect, Ivory Empress is doing her part to contribute to Seeking the Gold’s outstanding reputation as a broodmare sire. His daughters have produced a number of champions, led by Blame (who famously denied Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic).

Ivory Empress inherited her speed from her dam, the Grade 3-winning sprinter Madame Pandit. An earner of $393,460, the Wild Again mare won three stakes, including the off-the-turf Monrovia (G3) and the Autumn Days on Santa Anita’s unique downhill turf course. Madame Pandit is also responsible for 2005 Gamely (G1) heroine and Del Mar turf course record-setter Mea Domina.

Madame Pandit and her daughters were Whitham homebreds, just like McCraken. In fact, McCraken’s trainer, Ian Wilkes, also conditioned Ivory Empress.

Madame Pandit’s dam, Tuesday Evening, was purchased by the late Frank Whitham for $75,000 as a weanling at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky in 1983. By two-time champion Nodouble, Tuesday Evening went on to reward the investment as a broodmare, for Frank and for his widow, Janis, now 85.

McCraken is thus the fourth generation of his family to belong to Whitham, adding sentimental rooting interests to an objectively attractive pedigree.

Pedigree information courtesy; photos courtesy of Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

  • Ticket Info

    Sign up for race updates and more