07/23/2008 11:00PM

Hard Hitting still improving

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In June, the 2-year-old Quarter Horse Hard Hitting missed qualifying for a $1.1 million futurity at Los Alamitos by the amount of time it takes a person to snap his fingers.

There has been no such drama this month. He has been too far in front in time trials for the stopwatch to be a concern.

Hard Hitting holds the fastest qualifying time for Saturday's $500,000 Governor's Cup Futurity at Los Alamitos, his first appearance in a stakes final. He will be favored in the 350-yard final.

"He's jumped up quite a bit between every race," trainer Chuck Treece said. "He's been perfect. After the trial, he never had a bad day and hasn't missed a day of training. I think he's got a good shot."

The Governor's Cup Futurity is the richest race on a 13-race program for California-bred Quarter Horses at Los Alamitos on Saturday. The card also features two major stakes over 400 yards - the $168,650 Spencer Childers California Breeders' Championship for older horses and the $140,000 Governor's Cup Derby.

Hard Hitting has 1 victory in 3 starts. In the 350-yard trials for the Ed Burke Million Futurity on June 7, he finished second in his division and was timed in 17.62 seconds. The time left him in a tie with two other horses for the 10th and final berth. Hard Hitting lost a three-way random shake and stayed in the barn.

Treece turned his attention to the Governor's Cup Futurity trials on July 12 and was rewarded when Hard Hitting set the fastest qualifying time of 17.36 seconds.

Hard Hitting, owned by a 12-person syndicate, drew post 4 in the Governor's Cup Futurity. He had the best start of his three-race career in the Governor's Cup trials and needs to duplicate that to win on Saturday, Treece said.

"If he breaks clean, I think they'll have a tough time beating him," Treece said.

The Childers Championship is led by the defending champion, Soul of Silence, and Frankie Shoots, the winner of the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity on June 20.

Frankie Shoots has won his last three starts, emerging as a top older horse at Los Alamitos this year.

"He's really sharp right now," trainer Paul Jones said. "If he gets a good clean trip, he should be good."

The 2007 Childers was the biggest win of the year for Soul of Silence, who is trained and co-owned by Pat Visscher. In his lone start this year, the 5-year-old Soul of Silence was fifth in the Independence Day Handicap on June 28.

"He's ready," Visscher said. "If I get away for the gate, he'll be ready to roll."

Jones has an excellent chance in the Governor's Cup Derby with Shescheckinumout, who drew the rail. She won the La Pacifica Handicap earlier this year in her second start in a stakes.

Jones said the filly has been slow to develop, but is improving.

"She was a little bit high-strung and didn't pay much attention as a 2-year-old," he said. "She's putting more energy into running than goofing off before the race or in the gates."