If Strike Hard runs the same mile time in Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park he ran in a Dec. 5 Gulfstream allowance, the Florida spur of the Kentucky Derby trail will have a new force.

Strike Hard-Mucho Macho Man
Strike Hard opens his 3-year-old campaign as a possible Kentucky Derby prospect in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The New Year’s Day Mucho Macho Man is the first of four Derby trail stops at Gulfstream Park. (Image: Ryan Thompson Photo)

Strike Hard won that allowance by four lengths, covering the mile in 1:35.60. A repeat of that time would rank as the second-fastest time in event history, a second and change behind the 1:34.39 clocked by Itsmyluckyday in the 2013 event. And all Itsmyluckyday did was finish second in the Florida Derby, win three graded stakes – including the 2014 Whitney – and bank more than $1.7 million.

First things first. Strike Hard and his 25-year-old trainer, Matthew Williams, have the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man – and its corresponding deep field – ahead of them. That includes one of meet leader Saffie Joseph’s burgeoning stable of soon-to-be 3-year-olds: Skippylongstocking.

Named after the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic and Awesome Again champion, the Mucho Macho Man is the first rung on Gulfstream Park’s four-rung, Derby trail ladder. That ladder ends April 2 at the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

Strike Hard stumbled in his first stakes outing

Strike Hard climbed on that ladder with that resounding victory, his second at a mile and second in five races. The victory came with a career-best 92 Equibase Speed Figure and put Strike Hard on the board for the fourth time in those five races.

The only time the son of Grade 2 Flashback missed the board came in his lone graded stakes outing. That was the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs back in September, where Strike Hard finished a woeful seventh. He finished nearly seven lengths behind Major General at 5.80/1.

“I’d like to draw a line through that race,” Williams told Gulfstream Park. “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.”

This race will determine next Derby trail steps

Strike Hard came to Williams as a $25,000 purchase as a 2-year-old in training at March’s Ocala Breeders Sale. He gives Williams a potential male version of his best horse to date: Dream Marie. That 4-year-old filly placed in five stakes to go with four wins and more than $278,000 in earnings.

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