03/24/2011 2:02PM

Louisiana Derby looks like Mucho Macho Man's race to lose


NEW ORLEANS – The pace scenario is in his favor, he already has a win over the track, and he looked great the second time he went past the stands when galloping Thursday morning here at Fair Grounds. For Mucho Macho Man (click link for Contender Profile), the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby on Saturday looks like a slam dunk.

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For sure, he’s tall enough to throw one down. Standing 17 hands tall, with long legs that would make Nicole Kidman envious, Mucho Macho Man looks ready to take a leap forward. If he has spare time, maybe Dick Vitale should consider him a Diaper Dandy and bring him on over to the New Orleans Arena on Saturday for the NCAA Southeast Regional Finals.

“It seems like he grows all the time,” Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Mucho Macho Man, said while admiring her colt on Thursday morning. “You see him outside every two or three weeks and go, ‘Did you grow again?’ Before he left Belmont Park last fall, he was just short of 17 hands. And he’s grown.”

He has grown literally and figuratively. Mucho Macho Man, who won the Risen Star here last month, now ranks as one of the leading contenders for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. He is the 9-5 favorite on the Fair Grounds morning line for the Louisiana Derby, which drew 12 other entrants, including the betting entry of Nacho Business and Pants On Fire.

The Louisiana Derby, at 1 1/8 miles, is the 10th race on a marathon 14-race card that begins at 12:10 p.m. Central. There are five other stakes on the card, including three other Grade 2 events. The New Orleans Handicap features Donn Handicap winner Giant Oak and last year’s Louisiana Derby winner, Mission Impazible. The Fair Grounds Oaks is topped by Inglorious, the Rachel Alexandra runner-up. And the Mervin Muniz Handicap finds Battle of Hastings the morning-line choice.

The Oaks, Muniz, and Louisiana Derby are the final three legs of a pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $200,000. That sequence begins with the Duncan Kenner Stakes for sprinters, featuring track specialist Cash Refund. The Louisiana Derby is also the final leg of the pick six. Preceding that is the Bayou Handicap, with Upperline the morning-line favorite.

The day’s races will be shown live on HRTV, which will have a team of reporters at the track. The weather has been ideal all week, with the temperature in the lower 80s and minimal humidity. That forecast is expected to continue to Saturday, though there is a slight chance of isolated thunderstorms.

Mucho Macho Man drew well, in post 5, and figures to make the early running or stalk if Pants On Fire is intent on the lead from his inside draw. Mucho Macho Man got a stalking trip in the Risen Star, which he won by 1 1/2 lengths.

With the Louisiana Derby six weeks out from the Kentucky Derby, Ritvo said no decision has been made on whether Mucho Macho Man would race again before the first Saturday in May.

“I try to take every day as it goes. When you’re in the position I was in,” said Ritvo, who had a heart transplant, “you learn not to look too far forward.”

Neither the second- nor third-place finishers from the Risen Star are in the race, so Mucho Macho Man’s primary rivals include Machen, fourth in the Risen Star, and Elite Alex, who was third in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn.

Machen was beaten 4 1/4 lengths in the Risen Star. That was his first loss after two wins here earlier this meet.

“He got a lot out of the Risen Star,” said Machen’s trainer, Neil Howard, who also sends out Lecomte winner Wilkinson. “He got battle-tested. The way he’s trained since is reflective of that. He made a jump from the Risen Star. But he’s going to need another jump.”

Elite Alex is making his third start since returning from a lengthy layoff. He drew wide, in post 12. It will be up to jockey Calvin Borel to work out a ground-saving trip, something at which he is well versed.

Majestic Harbor steps into stakes company after a runaway victory against maidens on Feb. 12, his first start in 2 1/2 months and, most significantly, his first race around two turns.

“He was off because he got loose on the track one morning and skinned up the back of a front ankle,” said Paul McGee, the trainer of Majestic Harbor. “He skidded on the ground when he slipped and fell. He hit a dumpster. But the dumpster was secondary.

“We’re taking a shot in the race, but given the way he ran breaking his maiden, he deserves it,” McGee said. “It seems like he likes the track.”

Left has won twice here this meet, and seems to be on the improve for trainer Al Stall Jr.

Nacho Business was second in a strong allowance race at Gulfstream last time out in his second start.