12/30/2015 3:10PM

Sheikh of Sheikhs goes for graded status in Hutcheson

Emily Shields
Sheikh of Sheikhs wins the Juvenile Sprint on Breeders' Cup weekend at Keeneland.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The decision to move the six-furlong Hutcheson Stakes up on the calendar from the middle of the winter gave horsemen a second option to go with the one-mile Mucho Macho Man for their 3-year-olds here on Saturday. And as a result, the races wound up splitting the available talent, with seven in each race and the Hutcheson getting the stronger of the two fields. The Grade 3 Hutcheson attracted the stakes winners Sheikh of Sheikhs and Full Salute along with the extremely promising Awesome Banner.

Trainer Wesley Ward said the Mucho Macho Man might have been a consideration for Sheikh of Sheikhs, but the graded status of the Hutcheson persuaded Ward to send the colt in that race. Sheikh of Sheikhs closed out his 2-year-old campaign with a half-length victory over Noholdingback Bear in the six-furlong Juvenile Sprint at Keeneland on Breeders’ Cup weekend. Noholdingback Bear also is entered in the Hutcheson.

“If he can win a graded stakes, it helps us with his stud value, and, of course, he’s already proven at the distance, having won a couple of six-furlong sprints already,” said Ward.

Although all three of his starts have come on dirt, Sheikh of Sheikhs has done all of his training for this race over the turf course at Palm Meadows.

“He has no turf pedigree at all, but I worked him on the grass at Keeneland before his last race, and he worked just awesome on the turf,” said Ward. “So, I figured why change anything now? I’ve also found that breezing 2-year-olds on the grass early on tends to help keep them sounder than working on the dirt. He couldn’t be training any better than he is right now, so he should be spot on, ready to go on Saturday. I expect him to run a bang-up race.”

The aptly named Sheikh of Sheikhs is owned by Sheikh Abdullah Saeed Almaddah. Ward has five horses for him, including Green Mask, who finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and most recently was eighth in the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint on Dec. 13 at Sha Tin. Ward said he bruised a foot in his last work before the Hong Kong Sprint.

The field for the $100,000 Mucho Macho Man (previously known as the Gulfstream Park Derby) includes Aggressive Driver, Awesome Speed, Bullet Gone Astray, El Charro, Fellowship, Golden Ray, and Picadilly Roadster.

Saturday’s 11-race program also includes three more stakes, all for 3-year-olds: the Grade 3 Old Hat for fillies over the main track and the Grade 3 Dania Beach and $100,000 Ginger Brew on turf.