Machen Leads Howard's Quintet of La. Derby Noms

When longtime Fair Grounds-based trainer Neil Howard saddled Courtlandt Farms’ Machen to win Sunday’s $45,000 3-year-old feature by 5 ½ lengths, it gave the quiet, modest conditioner six wins from 15 starters at the 2010-2011 season and allowed him to join the top 10 in the local trainer standings despite the paucity of trips to the post.

It’s always been about quality over quantity with Howard, and joining Machen on the list of Early Bird nominations to the $1 million, Grade II Louisiana Derby March 26 are four other sophomores with promise. Although none of Howard’s quintet is advanced enough at this stage of their development to be probable starters in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes as the first leg of Fair Grounds 3-year-old series scheduled Jan. 22 and dubbed Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone, some of them might be possible for the Grade II Risen Star Stakes Feb. 19 as the second leg of Fair Grounds’ sophomore series.

“I don’t think we would rush (Machen) back into something like that,” Howard said when asked about the Lecomte after Machen’s maiden victory Sunday. “I think we’ll give him a chance to go from Kindergarten to first grade, so to speak.”

Courtlandt Farms’ Prime Cut, another of Howard’s Louisiana Derby Early Bird nominees, broke his maiden impressively here Dec. 12, but like Machen, is unlikely to be rushed into the Lecomte.

“We’re very optimistic about (Prime Cut) at this point in time, but we’ll probably look for a ‘non-winners-of-two’ for him rather than the Lecomte. Long term, however, if he continues to move forward, the Risen Star could be in his future.”

Gaillardia Racing’s Wilkinson, another Howard-trained Early Bird nominee to the Louisiana Derby, broke his maiden at Fair Grounds Dec. 10, but finished third behind Zayat Stables’ Justin Phillip on New Year’s Day.

“That was a pretty nice horse that beat him the other day,” said Howard on Monday, “but we were a decent third and I think Wilkinson will turn out to be a pretty nice horse for us.

“As for (Courtlandt Farms’) Perregaux, we’re probably going to try to make him a grass horse for us,” said Howard of the homebred who won in first-level allowance company over the Stall-Wilson turf course here on Dec. 18. 

“And (Courtlandt Farms’) Sports Day, he worked yesterday (five furlongs in 1:03.80 Monday),” said Howard of his unraced sophomore by Tiznow out of a Wild Rush mare. “He’s approaching readiness to make his first start, so we’ll just take a wait-and-see attitude with him and see what he shows us when he does run.”

JOCKEY JAMIE THERIOT OFF ALL HIS MOUNTS MONDAY – Jockey Jamie Theriot, Fair Grounds’ jockey champion three seasons ago, took off all his mounts Monday to attend his grandmother’s funeral, according to Theriot’s agent, Frank Bernis.

Entering Monday’s program, Theriot had ridden 29 winners, one off the pace of current leading rider Richard Eramia and five in front of current third-place jockeys Miguel Mena and Rosie Napravnik.

DOCTOR RAP RECOVERS IN A BIG WAY – The power of positive thinking permeates trainer David Carroll’s barn family these days, and was fittingly exemplified by the 16 1/4-length victory of My Meadowview Farm’s Doctor Rap on New Year’s Eve.

“When this horse was a 2-year-old, he showed a lot of promise but then fractured an ankle just when he was getting ready to make his first start,” said Stuart Clilverd, Carroll’s assistant currently running the local shedrow. “Then when he recovered from that and was coming back during his 3-year-old year, he got loose on the track and ran straight into another horse and suffered nerve and shoulder injuries that almost cost him his life.

“We thought he might run well the other day, but I don’t think anyone thought he would win that race by 16 ¼ lengths after all he’d been through,” said Clilverd. “That makes for an excellent comeback story to his career.”

TWIN SPIRES HANDICAPPING CONTEST RESCHEDULED—Due to the New Orleans Saints playoff game this Saturday (set for 3:30 p.m.) the Twin Spires Club VIP Handicapping Contest has been rescheduled for Saturday, Jan. 15. The free contest for Gold- and Platinum-level members will be held on six consecutive Fair Grounds races that afternoon. Registration wil be from 1-2 p.m. in the Gold Room and contestants must be on track to participate.

WATCH THE GAME AT THE TRACK – Fair Grounds will show Saturday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks on large, high-definition, flat-screen televisions throughout the track. Any of the private monitors in reserved boxes or at Clubhouse dining tables can also be turned to the game.