02/17/2011 3:27PM

Machen may be the rising star in Risen Star


When Rogue Romance finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6, a colt named Machen still was almost two months away from his career debut. But after making the races in January, Machen leapt to the head of the New Orleans 3-year-old class, and it’s he who might stand between Rogue Romance and a 3-year-old debut win Saturday in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

The Risen Star, a $300,000 Grade 2 race contested over 1 1/16 miles on dirt, goes far deeper than Machen and Rogue Romance. The 10-horse field includes five individual betting interests – Rogue Romance, Machen, Mucho Macho Man, Santiva, and Decisive Moment -- in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which closes Sunday.

KENTUCKY DERBY NEWS: Track all the 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail

And while the Risen Star serves up the tastiest Triple Crown fare so far this year, Saturday’s 12-race card transcends the 3-year-old picture. The Risen Star, post time scheduled for 4:46 p.m. Central, goes as race 10, and is the last of six stakes. Two lesser stakes, the Colonel Power and the Pan Zareta, are followed by four straight graded stakes – spanning races 7-10 – with the Rachel Alexandra, the Mineshaft, the Fair Grounds Handicap, and the Risen Star linked by a pick four wager with a $125,000 guaranteed pool. Kathmanblu, a leading early Kentucky Oaks hope, headlines the Rachel Alexandra. Mission Impazible returns to the scene of his Louisiana Derby win in the Mineshaft. The proceedings get underway at 12:10 p.m., and can be seen on HRTV, which will have a New Orleans crew Saturday. The local forecast is favorable.

Rogue Romance, a chestnut son of Derby winner Smarty Jones, first made his mark on turf, winning a Saratoga maiden race before unleashing an epic last-to-first rally in the Grade 3 Bourbon on Oct. 10 at Keeneland. A month later, Rogue Romance tackled the best of his generation making his dirt debut in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His finishing kick looked less explosive on the main track, but Rogue Romance also ran into mighty Uncle Mo, who beat him 10 lengths.

“I thought he ran fine, except he hooked Uncle Mo,” said trainer McPeek, who won the 2002 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby with Repent. “I think he kind of needed a race over dirt.”

McPeek said Rogue Romance was given about five weeks rest after the Breeders’ Cup, and the colt has worked six times at Gulfstream for his first start at 3. Rogue Romance breaks from post 1 under Julien Leparoux, and should have ample pace at which to run. Decisive Moment and Pants on Fire could battle for early supremacy; Mucho Macho Man and Justin Phillip should be close behind.

Demanding early splits could aid Machen, who has nothing like Rogue Romance’s r é sum é , but might be his equal in talent. Machen’s Jan. 2 career debut at six furlongs produced the sharpest maiden victory of the Fair Grounds meet. Four weeks later in a first-level, two-turn allowance race, Machen got away slowly – poor starts are habitual with the colt – and was rank into the first turn before settling for jockey Jamie Theriot. Machen got trapped behind a slow pace and had to await room in the stretch, bursting through a narrow hole and going on to a five-length victory. Slow fractions deflated his speed figure. Machen passed the eye test.

“I’d like to see him run the way he did the other day, but with a smoother run around the turn,” said trainer Neil Howard. A workout Monday, in which Machen relaxed from the start and finished with aplomb, suggested he will be more settled Saturday.

Mucho Macho Man finished second behind To Honor and Serve in both the Nashua and Remsen stakes last fall, but faded to fourth Jan. 30 after pushing the pace in the one-turn mile Holy Bull. Trainer Kathy Ritvo is making an equipment change Saturday, blinkers off, and is pleased to have Mucho Macho Man back in a true route.

“For sure, two turns is better for him,” Ritvo said of the lanky Macho Uno colt.

Santiva won his maiden with a half-length score last fall in the Kentucky Jockey Club, and makes his first start since then.

“He’s ready to run,” said trainer Eddie Kenneally. “I think we’ve got him pretty fit.”

Decisive Moment used his speed to win the $250,000 Jean Laffitte at Delta Downs, and his connections plan to let him roll again Saturday, but Decisive Moment is built like a route horse and appears to be improving. He must avoid a speed duel with Pants on Fire, who set the pace before finishing second in the Lecomte, but has since trained in a more laid-back fashion, trainer Kelly Breen said. And who knows what to expect from mercurial Justin Phillip? Justin Phillip easily handled Lecomte winner Wilkinson in a Jan. 1 allowance race, but bore out sharply in deep stretch. To correct that issue, trainer Steve Asmussen added blinkers for the Lecomte, but Justin Phillip broke poorly, was rank, and never got involved. The blinkers come off Saturday, and maybe something better is forthcoming.