Mighty Appealing sets out Wednesday on the long road to the Kentucky Derby.
One of the top performers of his generation last year, the colt left Maryland for Florida to run in prep races for the 3-year-old classics. Those tests begin with Gulfstream's seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes, and Mighty Appealing will be favored to win it.
Some clockers have been unimpressed by Mighty Appealing's workouts, but trainer Dean Gaudet said she is delighted by his progress since recovering from a small abscess in his foot. The colt worked a half-mile Saturday morning, and Gaudet said, "He's where we want him. We were very pleased with his work and he came out of it super. He's ready."
None of the other 11 entrants in the Hutcheson has credentials to compare with Mighty Appealing, who won the Laurel Futurity and earned $435,000 in nine weeks last fall. But this race might be a meaningful test for him anyway, because Mighty Appealing's game is speed and he is meeting a couple of brilliantly fast rivals.
In eight starts, Clever Champ, a sprinter from Maryland trained by Richard Weiss, has not had a horse in front of him during the first half mile. But the main competition in the Hutcheson is likely to be a colt named Banner Bob, who has been amazing the clockers here.
Banner Bob has placed in three important stakes without impressing anybody as a great star. But since he has been based at Gulfstream, he has worked five furlongs in an eye-popping 56 3/5 seconds and a half-mile in :45 flat.
"I've never had a horse work as fast as this one," veteran trainer Buddy Sarner said. "The jock said he never even got after him."
Worried that the morning efforts might have taken too much out of Banner Bob, Sarner said, "I just hope we don't look like dummies, me or the horse."
So much speed in the field might make this a tactically challenging race for Mighty Appealing's jockey, Greg Smith. He is under an unusual amount of pressure and scrutiny anyway, because he lacks the credentials that riders of classic contenders are supposed to have.
Other Hutcheson contenders include Creme Fraiche, Do It Again Dan and Vindaloo.