You’ve seen Mutasaabeq on the front page of Kentucky Derby futures prospects. Now, you’ll see him back on dirt in Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Mutasaabeq already owns a Grade 2 victory with his Bourbon Stakes win in October. He’ll try duplicating the feat back on dirt in Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park. (Image: Coady Photography)

When you do, you’ll see the Todd Pletcher-trained, son of Into Mischief take marquee status in Gulfstream Park’s first Derby prep of 2021. The Mucho Macho Man is a Listed Stakes that doesn’t offer Derby qualifying points. But it does offer perhaps the best field of the three Derby preps this weekend.

New Jersey-bred Pickin’ Time, winner of the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes, seeks his third stakes victory. Two Florida-breds venture into open company after dominating their counterparts in state-bred races: Big Thorn and Jirafales.

And yet, Mutasaabeq draws all the attention, along with 5/2 morning line favored status. The mile race takes Mutasaabeq back to the dirt for the first time since Sept. 7. There, he finished a distant third to Jackie’s Warrior and Reinvestment Risk in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. Mutasaabeq wound up 12 ¾ lengths behind Jackie’s Warrior, clocking his career-worst 68 Equibase Speed Figure.

This provided the quintessential bounce, since Mutasaabeq won his debut one start and one month earlier. That maiden special weight icebreaker came with an 86 Equibase.

Pletcher Playing His Hunches With Mutasaabeq

After the Hopeful, Pletcher moved Mutasaabeq to turf. He responded by winning the Grade 2 Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland in early October. The 2 ¼-length victory came after Mutasaabeq surged from 11th at the three-quarters call to first.

This prompted Pletcher to roll the dice. He put Mutasaabeq into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland. In this case, the house prevailed. Mutasaabeq had “no impact,” according to the race notes. He finished a well-beaten 10th in the 14-horse field.

“I think he’s versatile like we see with most Into Mischiefs. We’ve seen them run on both surfaces,” Pletcher told Gulfstream Park. “We’d like to see him on dirt again to help clarify that.”

Mucho Macho Man Provides Key Moment for Mutasaabeq

Pletcher responded to the disappointment by working out Mutasaabeq four times in December. His 1:00.7 five-furlong time Dec. 19 was the fastest of eight working that distance that day.

“We’re very happy with the way he’s training. We decided to get him back on the dirt,” Pletcher said. “He broke his maiden on dirt and ran a respectable third in the Hopeful, so we’ll see where we are with him.”

Where Mutasaabeq is with Derby futures bettors could go either way after the Mucho Macho Man. He’s currently 85/1 at Circa Sports and 75/1 at William Hill Nevada. A strong return to dirt will knock those odds roughly in half – or more, depending on Mutasaabeq’s performance.

Turf Remains His Likely Career Destination

Conversely, another bounce and Mutasaabeq’s numbers will soar, perhaps high enough to pull him off the Derby trail. In any event, Mutasaabeq’s future may be on turf.

But until that fleshes itself out, Mutasaabeq’s immediate future is defining himself against his fellow 3-year-olds. That’s what races like the Mucho Macho Man do for horseplayers.