The 3-year-old son of Distorted Humor had disappointed in his last two races at Fair Grounds for trainer Neil Howard, but came back with a huge effort in the one-mile Derby Trial, which was run under lights for the first time. With Edgar Prado aboard, the chestnut colt covered the distance on the fast dirt in 1:35.47.
Machen, who was a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands contender until finishing fourth in the Risen Star (gr. II) and fifth in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), instead seems to have found his niche at one turn.
In the Derby Trial, he lagged near the back of the field of nine for a half-mile, advanced on the turn, and was angled out four wide for his stretch drive. But he had a lot of work to do to catch Dominus, who sat just off the pace set by Travelin Man through three-quarters and took over coming off the turn. Dominus, a maiden winner last out for trainer Steve Asmussen, built a 1 1/2-length advantage at the top of the stretch under Julien Leparoux and was going well.
Dominus seemed to be home free, but Machen, sixth at the eighth-pole, was gobbling up ground on the outside and by mid-stretch posed a real threat to the leader. He needed every inch of the final furlong to get to the wire first.
After the race, Howard indicated it would be unlikely that Machen would point for the May 21 Preakness (gr. I).
“We’ve been waiting for this race, once we decided to shorten him up to one turn,” Howard said. “We think he will be a nice middle-distance horse. The long-term goal could be something like the King’s Bishop (gr. I at Saratoga) or something like that.”
Swale (gr. II) winner Travelin Man, who set fractions of :23.32 and :46.68, tired to finish sixth.
Machen did not race as a juvenile. He won his first two starts this year, breaking his maiden on Jan. 2 and then scored an impressive five-length allowance win on Jan. 30—both at Fair Grounds. He improved to 3-0-0 from five starts with earnings of $216,530.
Machen is out of the More Than Ready mare Ready’s Gal. He paid $15.40, $8, and $5.60. The exacta (3-6) returned $125.20 and the trifecta (3-6-5) was worth $829.80.
The attendance was a Churchill Downs record for a non-Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks or Breeders’ Cup program.