Mucho Macho Man Stakes: Strike Hard Aiming For Strong Start On Road To Florida Derby – Horse Racing News

Mucho Macho Man Stakes: Strike Hard Aiming For Strong Start On Road To Florida Derby – Horse Racing News

Strike Hard will try to get a head start on the Road to the Florida Derby in Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man Stakes

For Miracle’s International Trading, Inc.’s Strike Hard and Matthew Williams, the trainer for his family’s stable, Saturday’s $150,000 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park could prove to be a milestone race.

The 11th running of the one-mile Mucho Macho Man, the first step on Gulfstream’s road to the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby April 2, headlines five stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds worth $550,000 in purses on the New Year’s Day holiday program.

Post time for the first of 11 races is noon.

Both Strike Hard, a gray or roan son of Grade 2 winner Flashback, and Williams, a 25-year-old native of Kingston, Jamaica, are chasing the first stakes victory of their young careers. Williams has started 143 horses since November 2018 with 13 wins, while Strike Hard has raced five times with two wins, one second and one third.

“Going into the Mucho Macho Man, I have a lot of confidence. I definitely think he’s up to the challenge and the level, especially based on his last performance,” Williams said. “This race will help us decide what’s next.”

Strike Hard enters the Mucho Macho Man off a popular four-length optional claiming allowance triumph Dec. 5 at Gulfstream, with Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained stablemates A. P.’s Secret and Skippylongstocking a nose apart in second and third, respectively.

It was Strike Hard’s second career win at a mile, coming in 1:35.60. The winning time would rank as the second-fastest in Mucho Macho Man history behind the 1:34.39 posted in 2013 by Itsmyluckyday, who went on to run second in the Florida Derby, win three graded-stakes including the 2014 Whitney (G1), and earn more than $1.7 million in purses.

“I thought he ran a very good race,” Williams said. “They regarded A. P.’s Secret pretty well and he beat him by four lengths, and he did it in good time, too. He went in [1:22.64] for seven furlongs and 1:35 and change for a mile. That was pretty good, I thought.”

Purchased for $25,000 as a 2-year-old in training at OBS in March, Strike Hard came back to breeze five furlongs in 1:01.13 Dec. 24 over Gulfstream’s main track, eighth-fastest of 34 horses.

“He’s doing great. I’m happy with him,” Williams said. “I’m as happy as I can be with him.”

Strike Hard ran seventh, beaten 6 ¾ lengths, in the Sept. 18 Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs, his only previous stakes attempt. Junior Alvarado is named to ride from Post 2 in a field of six.

“I’d like to draw a line through that race,” Williams said. “I think we shipped him a little too close to the race, just because we were uncertain whether we’d actually get in. They were expecting a big field, there were a lot of nominations, so we didn’t ship him when we had initially planned. I hope that means he didn’t give us his best that day.”

Williams’ best horse to date has been Dream Marie, a 4-year-old mare that has won four of 23 starts with $278,420 in purse earnings. She has placed in five stakes including seconds in the Rampart (G3) and Hollywood Wildcat and a third in the Davona Dale (G2) in 2020 at Gulfstream. Williams is hopeful Strike Hard will be even more successful.

“From early on we thought he’d be a really nice horse. He trains really professionally,” he said. “He’s shown us good interest when training. I definitely like his competitiveness. The times when he was breezing in the early stages and the way he did it, the riders were always impressed with him and so was I.”

The Championship Meet’s leading trainer with 17 wins since Dec. 3, Joseph is keeping the likes of Remington Springboard Mile winner Make It Big, Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) show finisher White Abarrio and A. P.’s Secret on the bench for the Mucho Macho Man, but he will be represented by Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking.

Joseph is seeking his second Mucho Macho Man victory in three years following Chance It in 2020, who would go on to be Grade 1 placed. Skippylongstocking may have a change of equipment following his loss to Strike Hard last time out.

“He ran a decent race last time,” Joseph said. “We’re probably going to try some blinkers on him this time, so hopefully it will help him jump forward. The horse that beat him last time beat him pretty convincingly … so he has to improve.”

Skippylongstocking finished ahead of Strike Hard when they ran second and third, respectively, separated by two lengths in an Aug. 7 maiden special weight at Gulfstream. Like Strike Hard, Skippylongstocking would also graduate in his subsequent start, a 10 ½-length maiden special weight romp over Rod Two Rod going a mile Sept. 26 at Gulfstream. Rod Two Rod was fourth, two lengths behind Skippylongstocking, in the Dec. 5 allowance.

“His maiden win was good. The horse he beat came back to win but the time was slow and he beat that horse [again] the other day,” Joseph said. “That horse kind of actually gained a few lengths on him, so the form hasn’t been that strong. That’s the concern. I know he’s a decent horse, but can he make that jump? We’re going to give him one more try to find out and, hopefully, blinkers can help him move forward a bit.”

Tyler Gaffalione, who also rode Chance It in the Mucho Macho Man, gets the return call from Post 5.

Lanes Mark Racing Stable and Danny Pate’s Mr Rum Runner has never been worse than third in four starts and enters the Mucho Macho Man off his first win, a Nov. 21 maiden special weight at Gulfstream going one mile. He pressed the pace before taking a short lead, lost it at the top of the stretch and came back through the lane to win by a neck.

In his prior start, Mr Rum Runner set the pace along the inside and opened a clear advantage before being chased down and finished second to Peter D in the one-mile, 70-yard Juvenile over Gulfstream’s Tapeta surface Oct. 23. Peter D has gone on to win two subsequent starts.

“He’s training good. Hopefully, he can take the next step. He’s a nice horse. He has never disappointed us so far. We’ll see how good he is,” trainer Patrick Biancone said. “He’s a horse that when he takes the lead he has a tendency to pull up, so the jockey has to time the race perfectly.”

Romero Maragh is set to ride back from Post 4.

OXO Equine’s Graphic Detail is entered to make his second career start and first since rallying for a half-length maiden special weight triumph sprinting six furlongs Nov. 6 at Belmont Park for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. The fourth-place finisher in that race, Provocateur, came back to break his maiden by 4 ½ lengths as the favorite Dec. 23 at Tampa Bay Downs. Graphic Detail’s sire, Practical Joke, won the 2016 Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1) and was third in the 2017 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream before taking the Allen Jerkens (G1) at Saratoga.

Graphic Detail drew outside Post 6 under Luis Saez.

Tami Bobo’s Simplification ran fifth in his unveiling Oct. 1 over the Tapeta at Gulfstream before graduating by 16 ¾ lengths against fellow Florida-breds in an Oct. 23 maiden special weight over the main track. Most recently, the Not This Time colt finished third as the favorite in a Nov. 13 optional claiming allowance and will be stretching out beyond six furlongs for the first time.

Rounding out the field is Peacock Stable’s Sport Pepper, owned and trained by Kerry Zavash. The Classic Empire gelding broke his maiden on the turf and won an optional claiming allowance on the dirt in successive starts at Arlington Park and Keeneland, respectively, this fall before finishing off the board in the Oct. 31 Street Sense at Churchill Downs and Dec. 3 Pulpit on the grass at Gulfstream.

Sport Pepper will break from the rail with Corey Lanerie.

Contested as the Gulfstream Park Derby from 2012-14, the Mucho Macho Man was renamed in honor of the Gulfstream-based winner of nine of 25 career starts and more than $5.6 million in purse earnings. Seven of his victories came in stakes – the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and Awesome Again (G1), 2012 Suburban (G2) and Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), 2011 Risen Star (G2) and 2014 and 2012 Sunshine Millions Classic.