During training hours Friday morning at Fair Grounds, conditioner Neil Howard reported all systems still "on go" for appearances by the talented sophomore duo of Gaillardia Racing's WILKINSON (Lemon Drop Kid) and Courtlandt Farms' MACHEN (Distorted Humor) in the upcoming 98th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 26. (Photo of Machen courtesy of Hodges Photography.)

MachenWith its new seven-figure purse, the upcoming Louisiana Derby will be the richest Thoroughbred race ever run in New Orleans, and Lecomte S. (G3) winner Wilkinson and Risen Star S. (G2) fourth-place runner Machen join Risen Star winner MUCHO MACHO MAN (Macho Uno), owned by Reeves Thoroughbred and Dream Team One Racing, and Catesby Clay's ROGUE ROMANCE (Smarty Jones), third in that same test, as a contentious foursome to head the field of probable Louisiana Derby starters.

Wilkinson breezed four fast-track furlongs in :51 2/5 Monday at Fair Grounds, while Machen went that same half-mile distance that same morning in :50 3/5.

"They were both basically 'leg-stretcher' breezes," Howard said Thursday. "I've been giving Wilkinson three or four 'halves' six days apart since the Lecomte, and Machen's move Monday was just a maintenance kind of tune-up to see where we are with him since the Risen Star.

"They are both fairly easy horses to train, and right now all we're trying to do is see what they need and how stringent we have to be with their training leading up to the Louisiana Derby.

"They will both have fairly simple schedules leading up to the (Louisiana Derby)," Howard added.

"At this point in time, there is a remote possibility that I will work them in company with other horses to keep them sharp, but not with each other. They're both too competitive for me to do that with them."