04/30/2011 9:55PM

Churchill Downs: Machen finds mile of Derby Trial to be ideal distance

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Machen (left) comes charging late under Edgar Prado to overtake Dominus in the Derby Trial.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Machen dashed his connections’ Kentucky Derby dreams when he flattened out to run fourth in the Risen Star Stakes and fifth in the Louisiana Derby this spring at Fair Grounds.

Saturday, before a packed house opening night at Churchill Downs in the Grade 3, $231,400 Derby Trial, Machen gave them something else to dream about: his potential as a late-running sprinter/miler.

Racing against solid cast of 3-year-olds in the one-turn Derby Trial at a mile, Machen unleashed a stretch kick that had been absent in his two-turn stakes efforts. He rallied furiously down the center of the track to catch Dominus a couple jumps before the wire.

Although Machen’s winning margin was merely a neck, his superiority was evident. Blocked behind horses early, as favored Swale winner Travelin Man and Dominus set a modest pace of 46.48 seconds and 1:10.73, Machen still lingered in sixth, 4 3/4 lengths off the leaders with a quarter of a mile remaining

But pass them he did, and rather quickly at that, despite losing ground around the final turn when shifted wide into the clear by jockey Edgar Prado.

“It’s easy to say it now, but we felt that shortening up in distance might benefit this colt,” winning trainer Neil Howard said. “And it seems so far we’re right. He ran well.”

Machen raced the distance in 1:35.47 over a Churchill Downs main track that played quickly. He paid $15.40.

Dominus, stepping up into his first stakes race after a flashy maiden victory at Santa Anita, ran well in defeat, but could not contain the winner’s surge – if he even saw his late-finishing rival on the far outside.

J J’s Lucky Train finished 2 1/4 lengths farther behind in third.

Travelin Man, the 8-5 favorite, faded to sixth without an excuse.

Although past Derby Trial winners have at times used the race as a springboard to the Derby - and more often of late, the Preakness - Machen is not expected to go in either race.

“We’ll probably keep him middle distances, one turn,” Howard said.

Machen, a 3-year-old son of Distorted Humor owned and bred by Donald Adam’s Courtland Farms, picked up his first stakes victory in the Derby Trial.

Opening-night attendance was 38,142, a record for night racing at Churchill Downs.