11/19/2009 12:00AM

Macho Again: Always there on the big days


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Kentucky Oaks Day is known as "Louisville's Day at the Races." For thousands of locals who either can't afford the price of tickets to the Kentucky Derby or have no desire to fight the even bigger crowd that day at Churchill Downs, the Oaks is enough for them.

Over the years, a second day has evolved into a "Louisville's Day at the Races." It's the Friday after Thanksgiving, when friends and family return to town and are looking for something everyone can do together. The day always attracts easily the biggest crowd of the fall meet at Churchill, usually 20,000 or more, and a festive atmosphere rules. Fittingly, the biggest race of the meet - the Grade 2, $400,000 Clark Handicap - long has been a fixture of the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Macho Again will be there. It seems like he's always there whenever big days and big races take place.

"He sure has shown up at the right times," said Dallas Stewart, who trains 4-year-old Macho Again for the West Point Thoroughbreds ownership syndicate.

Macho Again has 6 wins and 6 seconds from 21 career starts and has earned more than $1.8 million. On at least a half-dozen occasions, the colt has played roles, major and minor, in some pretty dramatic racing moments - and always at a decent price on the tote board.

The first was on opening day of the 2008 spring meet at Churchill, when thousands of people turn out with Derby on their minds. Macho Again rolled from the back to win the Derby Trial at 6-1.

Next came the Preakness, run before a throng at Pimlico, where he ran second at nearly 40-1 to Big Brown. Then there was the come-from-behind score at 8-1 on a Saturday at Saratoga in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.

"When you win at Saratoga, it's the spot to be because everybody points for that meet," said Terry Finley, the founder and president of West Point Thoroughbreds. "This is a game of emotion and feelings. That was the first graded win at Saratoga for Dallas, and it was very special for all of us. We lose as a team and win as a team."

After a four-race slump that included defeats as the favorite in the Super Derby and a minor stakes at Fair Grounds to end his 3-year-old season, Macho Again rose to the occasion on Louisiana Derby Day at Fair Grounds by winning the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at 6-1.

Two races later, he was at it again, winning the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at 7-1 on the biggest day of the post-Derby segment of the spring meet at Churchill.

"A good number of our partners were able to make it to Churchill that day, which doesn't happen on a regular basis, so everything really fell into place for us that day," Finley recalled.

Two races after the Foster, Macho Again gave Rachel Alexandra all she could handle in the Woodward at Saratoga, finishing just a head behind as an 8-1 underdog in a stretch run for the ages.

"I was so proud of the way he stepped up that day," Stewart said. "You hate to get beat in any race, but that one was pretty tough. It was a great day for us, but it could have been the greatest."

After Macho Again was fourth in the Oct. 3 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Stewart had intended to run the colt in the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup Classic, but a poorly timed illness ruled out a trip to California.

"He started coughing a little bit, and we missed a few days of serious training with him," Stewart said. "It wasn't anything big; we just jogged him for three or four days. We didn't miss a lot of time, and he's come back real good."

In the 1 1/8-mile Clark, Macho Again is expected to face Einstein, who was a troubled third as the 6-5 favorite in the Stephen Foster. Einstein comes off the worst effort of his career, having finished 11th, beaten 19 lengths, in the BC Classic. Like everyone else, Stewart is aware that Einstein, an earner of more than $2.9 million, is far better than that, but he is not concerned about who will line up Friday against Macho Again.

"It doesn't matter who comes, because when my horse runs his race, he can run with anything," Stewart said.

Other horses under serious consideration for the Clark, for which entries will be taken Tuesday, include Misremembered, a Bob Baffert-trained 3-year-old coming off a win in the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park; Dubious Miss, a close second in the Kentucky Cup Classic to Furthest Land, the eventual winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile; Anak Nakal, Giant Oak, Timber Reserve, You and I Forever, and maybe a couple more.

Stewart, a 50-year-old New Orleans native who has raised two sons with his wife, Yvette, while making their home primarily in Louisville for nearly 20 years, is well aware of the importance of the Friday after Thanksgiving in this city.

"Oh, it's a big deal, all right," he said. "It's another big dance, and my horse usually steps up on these days. Let's hope he does again for the Clark."

The Clark is one of five graded stakes set for next week, when Churchill closes the 21-day fall meet. A quick look at the others:

* Grade 2, $150,000 Falls City Handicap (Thursday): The millionaire mares Unbridled Belle and Swift Temper will head what is expected to be a short field for the traditional Thanksgiving feature.

* Grade 3, $100,000 River City Handicap (Friday): Jambalaya, the 2007 Arlington Million winner, is expected in from Canada in a field of maybe 8 to 10 turfers.

* Grade 2, $150,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (Saturday): This could be the deepest stakes of the weekend, with 10 to 12 2-year-olds likely, including Iroquois winner Thiskyhasnolimit.

* Grade 2, $150,000 Golden Rod (Saturday): Bob Baffert is expected to send Crisis of Spirit from California to try Sassy Image, winner of the Pocahontas Stakes on opening day.