09/19/2008 12:00AM

Macho Again owns distinct class edge

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - There appear to be two schools of thought on the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs on Saturday. One is that Macho Again is the class of the field and could get a perfect pace setup behind Star Production, Forest Command, My Pal Charlie, and Mambo Meister.

The other is that there are some late-bloomers with real upside in the 10-horse field, among them Forest Command, Mambo Meister, Numismatist, and Stungbythestorm. Adding another layer to the puzzle is the presence of graded stakes regulars Real Appeal and Golden Yank, both of whom are strong closers.

The Super Derby, at 1 1/8 miles, is one of six stakes worth a cumulative $1.2 million on Louisiana Downs's biggest day of the year. It is also part of a $100,000-guaranteed pick four on races 9-12.

Macho Again has faced the year's best 3-year-olds, running second to Big Brown in the Preakness, fifth to Da' Tara in the Belmont, and winning the Grade 2 Jim Dandy over Pyro. No rival in the Super Derby can match his company lines, or his earnings of $676,619.

"He's a very tough horse, very game," said Dallas Stewart, who trains Macho Again for West Point Thoroughbreds. "He likes to run and likes to win."

Stewart said Macho Again is also athletic, and all of his attributes served him well in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 23. He was part of a scary jam-up at the quarter pole. Macho Again clipped heels and was able to recover, but ended up eighth behind Colonel John.

"He had the worst of it," said Stewart. "Fortunately, he came back healthy.

"He did hit himself on the back of his ankle and he was a little sore for a couple of days. We X-rayed him and it was all good. He got back to the track pretty quick."

Before the Travers, Macho Again won the Jim Dandy, a 1 1/8-mile stakes for which he earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102.

"It was a great race for him," said Stewart. "He just laid back and fought hard during the stretch. Pyro gave him a good challenge there passing the eighth pole and he repelled that."

Kent Desormeaux has the mount.

Robby Albarado will ride Forest Command, a winner of 2 of 3 starts who makes his two-turn debut off a seven-furlong optional claimer at Saratoga in which he defeated older horses. He is a son of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos.

"We've got to think two turns is what he was made for," said John Ward, who trains Forest Command.

Mambo Meister can make an impact in his stakes debut if he runs back to the Beyer of 99 he earned for winning an overnight stakes in July. In his most recent start, he was fifth in an optional claimer at Calder.

"His last race, we thought, was an aberration," said his trainer, Phil Gleaves. "It was over a sloppy track that we don't seem to think he cared for, and he hopped at the start. With sloppy tracks, it's very tough to make up ground on the front-runners when something like that happens so early in the race."

Patrick Valenzuela has the mount.

Star Production's strategy is clear after he wired the fields in both the $100,000 Louisiana Breeders' Derby and $100,000 Prelude Breeders' Cup at Louisiana Downs in August.

"Our horse likes the front end," said trainer James Hodges. "He started running 100 Beyers when we put him on the front end, so that's kind of the way we look at it."

Real Appeal should be closer to the pace than last time, when he rallied from 19 lengths back for third in the Grade 3, $750,000 West Virginia Derby.

"He broke a step slow and found himself far enough back and far enough outside that we just took him back further and moved over to the rail," said Tom Amoss, who trains Real Appeal. "So, position-wise, he was definitely compromised at the start, and that's too bad because he didn't get beat very far. I think if we had gotten better position we could have maybe been competitive for the win."

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