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Kentucky Confidential

Churchill Stakes

A Trial, But Not for the Derby

Travelin Man winning the Swale Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

If prep season had gone just a bit differently, Machen, Beamer, and Indian Winter could be Kentucky Derby contenders, out each morning on the Churchill Downs track in their yolk-yellow saddlecloths, subjects of speculation, vehicles of dreams.

Instead, they’re three of nine entered in the opening night Grade 3 Derby Trial, a race in which no horse has wheeled back for the Derby since Don’t Get Mad in 2005. He finished fourth to Giacomo.

Machen was briefly on the trail after two consecutive wins this winter at the Fair Grounds. A fourth in the Risen Star and fifth in the Louisiana Derby knocked him out. Should he win on Saturday, he’ll flatter those who finished ahead of him in those races — Santiva, Mucho Macho Man, Nehro, and Pants on Fire.

A clue to the quality of Midnight Interlude might come from Indian Winter, sixth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby upset by Bob Baffert’s late-developing colt, and to Watch Me Go from Beamer, fourth in both the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis and Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.

But to get to the winner’s circle, they’ll have to beat Travelin Man, second in the Grade 2 Hutcheson, winner of the G2 Swale Stakes, and J J’s Lucky Train, coming off consecutive wins in the Miracle Wood and Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes. Both have graded earnings enough to secure a Derby stall should they win the Derby Trial, but neither is likely to so quickly return.

The Derby Trial will be run for the first time under lights, as the eighth race on a card with a first post of 6:00 PM. Whoever stands in the sodium-lit winner’s circle will give their connections a reason to dream. Not of the roses, but there are other races.

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Author PhotoJessica Chapel is the co-founder of Kentucky Confidential, founder of Raceday 360, and developer of Breeders’ Cup 360. She's blogged about horse racing as Railbird since June 2004 and is a contributing editor to Hello Race Fans. More by  ›