Saturday's Louisiana Derby Preview Day at Fair Grounds will live up to its billing with six stakes, four which are graded and serve as the final preps for the meet highlights on the March 26 Louisiana Derby Day program. The $300,000 Risen Star S. (G2) is the main attraction on Preview Day and there is no shortage of intrigue among the 10 three-year-old colts entered for the 1 1/16-mile test.
Despite not having made an appearance in a stakes, a lot of the attention in the Risen Star will be focused on the Neil Howard-trained MACHEN (Distorted Humor), who's taken both career starts by at least five lengths. Howard had also considered running Lecomte S. (G3) winner Wilkinson (Lemon Drop Kid), but his name was not among the entries and that one will presumably wait for the Louisiana Derby (G2).
Machen did not make his debut until January 2 but there was enough early buzz to make the chestnut a 3-1 favorite in that six-furlong maiden test. After winning by 5 1/2 lengths, leaving two next-out winners in the dust, the Courtlandt Farms homebred was a rare 1-20 standout in a January 30 first-level allowance test. Despite breaking slowly for a second time and tracking a tepid pace, Machen left no doubts about his ability to go two turns when driving home a five-length victor under Jamie Theriot, who retains the mount for the Risen Star.
Making their seasonal debuts in the Risen Star are a pair of graded winners from last fall, SANTIVA (Giant's Causeway) and ROGUE ROMANCE (Smarty Jones). Santiva, who had raced on dirt and turf before a second-place finish on Polytrack in the Breeders' Futurity (G1), finally earned his first trip to the winner's circle with a half-length score in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) at Churchill Downs in November. Though that 1 1/16-mile fixture was used as a vehicle by Super Saver the previous year en route to a victory in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Santiva has something to prove as his KJC score was achieved in a slower time than fillies ran in the Golden Rod S. (G2) on the same program.
Rogue Romance raced exclusively on turf in his first three starts, culminating in a 2 1/2-length triumph in the Bourbon S. (G3) at Keeneland. However, trainer Kenny McPeek took a shot with the colt in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) on dirt and the chestnut fared okay with a third-place effort, 10 1/4 lengths behind generation leader Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie).
Adding fuel to a race already overloaded with speed on paper are Florida invaders DECISIVE MOMENT (With Distinction) and MUCHO MACHO MAN (Macho Uno). This marks the third trip to Louisiana but the first to New Orleans for Decisive Moment, who ran second in the Delta Downs Jackpot S. (G3) in November before returning to Delta Downs last month to take the Jean Lafitte S. by 3 1/2 lengths.
Mucho Macho Man, a solid second to the talented To Honor and Serve (Bernardini) in both the Remsen S. (G2) and Nashua S. (G2), found himself on the lead as the slight favorite in the January 30 Holy Bull S. (G3) at Gulfstream, but was hounded the entire way and wilted in the final furlong to finish 4 1/2 lengths behind Dialed In (Mineshaft). A return to two turns might help the bay, who will run without blinkers for the first time in his career on Saturday.
Though Wilkinson did not make the party, three of his four Lecomte rivals are back for the Risen Star. PANTS ON FIRE (Jump Start) was nipped by Wilkinson's head at the finish after leading nearly all the way. ACTION READY (More Than Ready), who was five lengths back in third, and JUSTIN PHILLIP (First Samurai), who endured an unnecessarily wide trip around both turns before trailing the quintet, each have form to find to make amends. In a significant equipment change, Justin Phillip's one-race experiment with blinkers has ended, and he takes the headgear off Saturday.
The Risen Star field is completed by two outsiders, the Louisiana-bred maiden winner LIONDRIVE (Lion Tamer) and recent Sam Houston graduate SORGHO (Storm Cat).