Courtlandt Farms’ Machen, rallying strongly in the center of the track, got up in the final strides to edge Dominus by a neck to win the 87th running of the $231,400 The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (Grade III) for 3-year-olds before an opening-night crowd of 38,142 at Churchill Downs.
The attendance was a Churchill Downs record for a non-Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks or Breeders’ Cup program. The nighttime opener for the Spring Meet and Kentucky Derby Week at the historic track was the first in the 137 year history of the home of the Kentucky Derby.
Ridden by Edgar Prado and trained by Neil Howard, Machen covered the mile on a fast main track in 1:35.47.
Favored Travelin Man, ridden by John Velazquez, dueled with Dominus and Julien Leparoux for the lead through fractions of :23.32, :46.68 and 1:10.73. At the head of the stretch, Dominus took over as Machen, moving from mid-pack, swung to the outside and took dead aim on the leader.
Dominus opened a clear advantage at mid-stretch and grudgingly gave way as Machen rallied under Prado to snatch the victory that was worth $137,729 and increased Machen’s career bankroll to $216,529 with a record of 3-0-0 in five races.
A homebred son of Distorted Humor out of the More Than Ready mare Ready’s Gal, Machen posted his first stakes victory after posting a fifth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (GII) and a fourth-place effort in the Risen Star (GII).
Machen returned $15.40, $8 and $5.60. Dominus returned $6.80 and $4.80 with J J’s Lucky Train finishing 2 ¼ lengths back in third under Jose Ferrer and returning $4.40 to show.
It was another length back to Indian Winter, who was followed in order by Indiano, Travelin Man, Beamer, B G Suavecito and Duca.
The 39-day Spring Meet resumes Tuesday with a 10-race program beginning at 12:45 p.m. (EDT).
THE CLIFF’S EDGE DERBY TRIAL POST RACE QUOTES
EDGAR PRADO (Jockey, Machen, winner) – “He broke OK and was able to sit behind them. I was very comfortable and started moving forward on the turn and (J J’s Lucky Train) came out and hit my horse real hard. My horse lost his action a little bit and I dropped far back, more than I wanted to. I just took my time and regrouped and put my horse back together. He picked it up. I was lucky they have a long stretch here.”
NEIL HOWARD (Trainer, Machen, winner) – “He’s been a nice colt, but I think maybe we were pushing just slightly with the two turns. Once we accepted the fact that we thought maybe shortening up a little bit would help him – because it was all speculation at that time – but now that he has done it we’ll probably try to be careful about not going too far with him.
“The first quarter I was wondering if they were going fast enough. Then they picked it up a little bit. He looked smooth going into the turn. He was picking up his horse nice. Then he came hard at the end down the lane.”
Would Machen go to the Preakness?
"“I don’t think so. Mr. (Donald) Adam is pretty good about letting them find their niche. You’re better off in the long run. I doubt we do something like that. But something long-term like the King’s Bishop, nice one-turn races like that. That’s a way off.”
JOSE FERRER (Jockey, J J’s Lucky Train, third place) -- “I had a good trip. My horse got to run his race. No excuses.”
JOHN VELAZQUEZ (Jockey, Travelin Man, sixth as favorite) – “He was never really comfortable. He couldn't get a hold of the track. He was trying and trying but he just couldn't get a hold of it."
TODD PLETCHER (Trainer, Travelin Man, sixth as favorite) – “Johnny (rider John Velazquez) said he ducked from a shadow in the chute coming away from there, but that really wasn’t the problem. He said he had issues with the track. He said going down the backside he was pricking his ears and looking around. But then when he asked him to lay it down, he just spun his wheels. He said it was like he was running in place. Not this time; just not our time.”