Courtlandt Farms' homebred MACHEN (Distorted Humor) confirmed his potential as a Louisiana Derby (G2) prospect by dominating Sunday's 5TH race at Fair Grounds, but the unbeaten colt had anything but clear sailing as prohibitive 1-20 favorite.
Slow to break from the gate, the Neil Howard trainee was forced to check going into the first turn. Then he was a rank handful for jockey Jamie Theriot early on the backstretch, but finally settled as he loped along in fourth in the five-horse field off splits of :25 2/5, :50 3/5 and 1:15 3/5.
Machen was clearly full of run on the far turn, only to have his path blocked on the inside. Theriot patiently awaited the split, which came soon enough, and his mount was quick to pounce in the stretch. Slicing through without hesitation, Machen burst clear in a matter of strides. The chestnut increased his margin before being taken in hand late, completing the mile and 70 yards in 1:44 3/5 on the fast track and returning $2.10, $2.10 and $2.10. Don Dulce, the 7-1 second choice, closed from the rear to take runner-up honors by 1 1/2 lengths.
Machen is still inexperienced, for his only prior outing was a 5 1/2-length maiden conquest at Fair Grounds on January 2. That came in a six-furlong sprint, so Sunday's entry-level allowance marked his two-turn debut.
"It was only his second start and, it's funny, he's got a great demeanor, but these three-year-olds, they're still kind of young and they're looking around," Howard said. "They're not completely smooth yet. I think all of that will subside away.
"Jamie looked like he was sitting on horse," Howard said of the momentary traffic snarl. "He was just kind of sitting there, perched up. It looked like he had plenty of horse under him and then when that hole opened up he accelerated beautifully. You couldn't not be happy with what you saw there."
Now two-for-two, Machen increased his career earnings to $46,800. The Kentucky-bred is the first foal out of Canadian Grade 2 victress Ready's Gal (More Than Ready).
Howard indicated that the February 19 Risen Star S. (G3) is a possibility for Machen's next start, but the trainer has two other New Orleans-based three-year-old stakes prospects to consider in Prime Cut (Bernstein), also owned by the Courtlandt Farm stable of Texas banker Don Adam, and Lecomte S. (G3) winner Wilkinson (Lemon Drop Kid).