02/23/2012 4:56PM

Fair Grounds: El Padrino invades for Risen Star

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Barbara D. Livingston
El Padrino, trained by Todd Pletcher, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday's Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

NEW ORLEANS – Mardi Gras may have ended Tuesday, but in this city, the rallying cry is always “laissez les bons temps rouler.” At Fair Grounds on Saturday, the good times roll with a stakes-packed Louisiana Derby preview card, highlighted by a Grade 2, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes in which the locals will try to defend their honor against a visitor.

El Padrino is the interloper, and he arrives fresh off a fast allowance victory at Gulfstream Park for the powerful Todd Pletcher barn. But in order for El Padrino to truly prove he belongs among the elite Kentucky Derby contenders, he will have to beat a Risen Star field that includes the first three finishers from last month’s Lecomte Stakes – Mr. Bowling, Z Dager, and Shared Property – all of whom have the advantage of a good race over the track.

[MORE: PPs and video previews for the Saturday card at Fair Grounds]

The Risen Star, at 1 1/16 miles, is the 11th race on a 12-race card that also includes three Grade 3 stakes – the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra for 3-year-old fillies, the $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap for older turf runners, and the $125,000 Mineshaft for older horses on the main track.

There are two other stakes. Chamberlain Bridge, the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner, heads the field in the $75,000 Colonel Power for turf sprinters. And 3-year-old Louisiana-breds go a mile on turf in the Gentilly.

In addition, Nehro, runner-up in last year’s Kentucky Derby, makes his first start since the Belmont Stakes in a first-level allowance, race 5.

First post is scheduled for 12:10 p.m. local time. There will be live, on-site coverage on HRTV, hosted by Peter Lurie.

Eleven are entered in the Risen Star, but there are only nine betting interests, owing to a pair of coupled entries. The Risen Star is the last leg of a pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $100,000.

El Padrino is the 2-1 Risen Star favorite on the morning line of Mike Diliberto of Fair Grounds. He comes off an allowance win at Gulfstream on Jan. 29, his first start since finishing a troubled third in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 26.

After shipping in Wednesday, El Padrino got his first tour of the Fair Grounds main track right after the renovation break Thursday morning. A chestnut-colored colt with a wide, generous blaze, El Padrino moved smoothly over the track, with Pletcher assistant Whit Beckman closely observing.

“He seemed to get over it well,” Beckman said. “I’ve been around this horse a lot, and he just takes everything in stride. He’s very easygoing.”

This will be El Padrino’s fifth start, all at different racetracks.

Mr. Bowling is the most accomplished of the locals. His three wins in five starts include a game victory in the Lecomte. Mr. Bowling will race coupled with the unbeaten Mark Valeski, both of whom are homebreds owned by Brereton Jones and trained by Larry Jones.

Mr. Bowling is “a late-developing horse,” Larry Jones said.

“He’ll do better with longer distances and get better with age,” Jones said. “I really liked the acceleration he showed when Z Dager came to him. He does what he has to do.”

Both Jones and his wife, Cindy, think Mark Valeski has enormous potential, but realize the Risen Star will be a major step. Mark Valeski has won twice in three starts, but this will be his first time around two turns and his stakes debut.

“Every Proud Citizen I’ve had,” Jones said, referring to Mark Valeski’s sire, “is good as a sprinter and is just as good going long. Proud Spell broke her maiden at 5 1/2 furlongs and won the Alabama at a mile and a quarter. I feel like he’s the same kind of horse. I feel like he can stretch out.”

The other betting entry is that of trainer Gennadi Dorochenko, who has the outsiders Hero of Order and Adena’s Chance, fifth and 10th, respectively, in the Lecomte.

Afford, a son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, beat a first-level allowance field last time out in his first start around two turns Feb. 9. He is out of the same dam as Fast Alex, who runs in the Mineshaft and has a history of running well at Fair Grounds.

“He ran a good race last time, but I’m kind of running back a little quick,” trainer Greg Geier said.

Afford got quite hot during his routine gallop Thursday on a fairly mild morning, but Geier said that was the norm for Afford, so expect him to be washy Saturday afternoon, too.

Optimizer ships in from Oaklawn, having bypassed the Southwest on Monday for this. He was sixth last time out in the Smarty Jones.

“He’s a closer and he needs a place to run in the stretch, and he’ll get that in New Orleans,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

Tizanexpense drew poorly, landing the outside post, but he comes into the Risen Star, his stakes debut, off a pair of two-turn wins over this track.

– additional reporting by Mary Rampellini

Recent Risen Star winners

Year Horse Beyer
2011 Mucho Macho Man 94
2010 Discreetly Mine 94
2009 Firesan Fire 97
2008 Pyro 90
2007 Notional 92

Avg. winning Beyer: 95.31

Risen Star S. (G2), Post Time: 4:55 CT Saturday

Purse: $300,000; 1 1/16 mile

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

ML Odds

1

Mr. Bowling

J. Jones

R. Albarado

4-1

1

Mark Valeski

J. Jones

R. Napravnik

4-1

1

Adena's Chance

G. Dorochenko

R. Eramia

30-1

2A

Hero of Order

G. Dorochenko

J. Graham

30-1

1

Afford

G. Geier

S. Bridgmohan

8-1

1

Optimizer

D. Lukas

C. Marquez Jr.

6-1

1

Z Dager

S. Asmussen

S. Sellers

5-1

1

Ted's Folly

W. Brown

R. Zimmerman

20-1

1

El Padrino

T. Pletcher

J. Castellano

2-1

1

Shared Property

L. Goncalves

T. Amoss

6-1

1

Tizanexpense

M. Maker

M. Mena

10-1