Although not part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, Saturday’s $100,000 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park figures to yield a starter or two for some of the track’s future preps later during the Championship Meet.
A competitive event on paper, the mile event marks the return to action of Chance It, who won two of the three Florida Sires Stakes divisions in convincing style, including the 1 1/16-mile In Reality by more than seven lengths. The speedy colt has not raced since that Sept. 28 event.
“As we got nearer to the time, you get more edgy, you get more anxious to get him back started,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “You just want him to come back good and show that he’s the same horse as he was as a 2-year-old.”
South Bend won his first three starts, including the Street Sense S. at Churchill Downs over a one-turn mile. He won that race over Silver Prospector, who returned the favor in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) when South Bend weakened to sixth in his two-turn debut.
“It was a very disappointing race. It was on a very muddy racetrack. We had a lot of rain that whole week,” said trainer Stan Hough of the Kentucky Jockey Club. “I’m not sure if he disliked the track or the two turns or what. The winner he had beaten the time before going seven seven-eighths. He didn’t run his race for whatever reason. He does have talent. Maybe he’s a one-turn horse and the two turns got him or maybe he didn’t like the track.”
Sole Volante has won both previous starts on the turf, including the Pulpit S., scoring each time at odds of 13-1. The Patrick Biancone trainee by Karakontie will look to capture his dirt debut against a tough field.
“I think in the future the longer the race the better for him. The timing is right,” Biancone said. “He has no problem with the kickback in the morning, but not under racing conditions. It’s more an education than anything else.
“He doesn’t need to win. We hope he runs good and finishes well. The time is the right time. We can go back to the turf or we start to dream.”
Also in the field are As Seen on Tv and Smash Factor, one-two in a 6-furlong state-bred stakes at Gulfstream Park West last time; Ashaar, a Belmont graduate who finished a distant fifth behind Independence Hall in the Nashua (G3); and Inter Miami, who steps up after romping in a $50,000 maiden claimer in his Dec. 4 debut.
Laurel Futurity winner Irish Mias, second to Solo Volante in the Pulpit last time, is one of the main contenders in the $100,000 Kitten’s Joy (G3), an about 7 1/2-furlong grass test for 3-year-olds. Also worth watching is Summer to Remember, second to the well-regarded Decorated Invader in his Saratoga debut and a maiden winner over the Gulfstream turf on Dec. 11 for Todd Pletcher.
The $100,000 Ginger Brew, the filly counterpart to the Kitten’s Joy and run over the same distance, attracted a deeper field that includes Natalma (G1) heroine Abscond, who ran seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), and recent Wait a While S. winner Cheermeister.