01/04/2011 5:17PM

Machen's debut romp continues Howard's roll in New Orleans


When Machen whistled home a 5 1/2-length debut winner in Sunday’s ninth race at Fair Grounds, it put an exclamation point on a strongly declarative statement that trainer Neil Howard has made early in the 2010-2011 Fair Grounds meet. Neil Howard is back in business!

Howard, being one of humanity’s most diplomatic members, tends not to employ exclamation points, and certainly not in reference to his own accomplishments. But there is no doubt that his stable has suddenly popped back into prominence. Already this Fair Grounds meet, Howard’s barn has won six races, five of them with horses born in 2008. That’s as many races as Howard won the last two Fair Grounds seasons combined, and one has to go all the way back to 2004-2005 to find a winter in Louisiana during which Howard won more than six. Howard’s 6-15 mark is second-best, percentage-wise, among Fair Ground trainers with 10 starters or more. And given the fact that most of the stable’s success has come with horses that just turned 3, there is reason for further hope.

Machen will have made Triple Crown trackers who utilize Beyer Speed Figures take notice: His six furlongs in 1:10.61 over a racing strip dull all last week earned a Beyer of 95. That’ll get Machen into the Derby conversation, but Howard doesn’t seem convinced that Machen, even if all goes well with the colt, is a Derby kind of horse. Machen, a son of Distorted Humor out of the More than Ready mare Ready’s Gal, is shaped more like a sprinter-miler than a true distance horse, in Howard’s eyes. Howard does believe Machen will get a middle distance – “He’s bred to be pretty versatile,” he said – but beyond that things seem less certain. One thing for sure: Machen is fast. He won going away, despite breaking last and failing to change leads in the stretch until just before the finish.

“I’ve been pretty optimistic about him all along,” Howard said. “He’s a colt that’s had a little bit of greenness to him.”

Howard plans to run Machen back in an entry-level allowance race and would sprint him again without concern. Allowance competition also is in the plans for Prime Cut, another male Fair Grounds maiden winner held in even higher esteem by his connections than Machen. Prime Cut debuted June 19 at Churchill, breaking in the air and trailing early before rallying for a close fourth. Prime Cut got sick a couple days afterward, Howard said, and only returned to the races Dec. 12, easily winning a Fair Grounds maiden sprint. Howard would prefer to run Prime Cut in a route race but said he would sprint him again if necessary.

Prime Cut, Machen, and another Fair Grounds winner, turf-oriented Perragaux, all are owned by the Courtlandt Farm of Donald Adam, one of the clients Howard took on after his position as de facto private trainer for Will Farish (and associates) came to an end. Courtlandt also owns Chloe Kate, a 3-year-old filly who won her two-turn debut by almost seven lengths in a Dec. 20 Fair Grounds maiden race; and Sports Day, a $320,000 Tiznow yearling who is about ready to make his career debut.

Albarado will require surgery on heel

The broken heel that Robby Albarado suffered Sunday at Fair Grounds will require surgical repair, Albarado confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

Albarado will see a doctor Friday in New Orleans to determine when the surgery will be performed. He said he expected to be in a walking boot for a couple of weeks and could be ready to resume riding in five weeks' time.

Albarado was hurt when his mount, a low-level maiden-claimer, unseated him on the way to the racetrack from the paddock.

Never Retreat ships out for Marshua’s River

Never Retreat would have been favored to win the Blushing K D on Saturday, even when the race was taken off turf and contested on a wet main track. But Never Retreat was a late scratch from the race, a morning worker Monday, and gone from Fair Grounds on Tuesday.

Richie Scherer, who took over Never Retreat’s training from Chris Block when the filly came to New Orleans for the winter, said she had been shipped to Florida for a start Sunday in the Marshua’s River Stakes at Gulfstream Park.