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.”