11/24/2012 2:32PM

Fair Grounds: Jones's power duo returning to the scene


NEW ORLEANS – Believe You Can was the best 3-year-old filly stabled at Fair Grounds last winter and went from New Orleans on to a win in the Kentucky Oaks. Mark Valeski probably was the best 3-year-old colt here last season, and went from a tough defeat in the Louisiana Derby on to win the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont. Believe You Can arrived at Fair Grounds from Kentucky on Thursday, Mark Valeski gets here this week, and trainer Larry Jones is hoping both horses will once again assume a position of prominence during the Fair Grounds meeting.

Mark Valeski’s 3-year-old campaign was cut short after the Peter Pan when a small bone chip in his knee required surgery and a layoff. Believe You Can finished third in the June 23 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont and was being pointed to the Alabama Stakes when her connections decided Believe You Can wasn’t quite herself and took her out of training. Both horses spent time resting at owner-breeder Brereton Jones’s Airdrie Stud near Frankfort, Ky., and the two are on fairly similar timetables, according to Jones.

Believe You Can, who had her first day of exercise Saturday since arriving at Fair Grounds, is “not hardly ready to breeze,” said Jones, who still was running horses at Churchill Downs this weekend.

“We’re going to let her tell us when she’s ready to race, but hopefully we’ll find a race down in New Orleans for her,” Jones said. “All is well with her.”

Fair Grounds has two six-figure stakes in Believe You Can’s division, the $100,000 Tiffany Lass on Feb. 2 and the $150,000 New Orleans Ladies on March 9. The signature race of the spring for older female dirt-route horses is the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park.

Jones said Mark Valeski is “about in the same area of condition” as Believe You Can. “He’ll hopefully be ready to be breeze down there soon,” he said.

Mark Valeski, basically an unknown horse at the beginning of 2012, sharply won an allowance race here before losing by a nose to El Padrino in the Risen Star Stakes and by a half-length to 109-1 shot Hero of Order when favored in the $1 million Louisiana Derby.

Mark Valeski validated his route credentials when he won the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan by 1 1/4 lengths, and Jones said Mark Valeski would be pointed to two-turn dirt stakes this spring. The best local races in that division are the $150,000 Mineshaft on Feb. 23 and the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap on March 30.

Calhoun barn opens meet hot

The big news here late Friday came when two of trainer Bret Calhoun’s starters actually finished unplaced in Fair Grounds races.

Calhoun won two races Thursday and two more Friday. Four of his first six starters won, and one of the losers, second-place Hero Force in race 6 on Thursday, could easily have won his race. Hero Force led comfortably at the stretch call, but began to idle and was passed in the final half-furlong before he had time to respond, galloping out well in front of the winner.

All four of Calhoun’s opening-week winners (Taralicious and Mohijo on Thursday, A P Zapper and Butcher on Friday), were Louisiana-bred maidens, three of them scoring in maiden special weight races, the other in a statebred-restricted maiden claimer.

“Some of those races were split, and that really helped us,” Calhoun said Saturday morning. “We felt pretty confident going in. And I hate to say it, but we think we have some other [Louisiana-breds] back here that are even better.”

One of the best horses in Calhoun’s barn, Summer Applause, is well along in her training for a comeback race this winter. Winner of the Rachel Alexandra and second in the Fair Grounds Oaks last Fair Grounds season, Summer Applause hasn’t raced since finishing fourth in the Kentucky Oaks, having come out of that start with a chipped knee that required surgery. Summer Applause has worked four times at Fair Grounds, and Calhoun has circled the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, a new race at Sam Houston Race Park, as a likely spot for Summer Applause’s first race back.

“If the timing were right, I’d love to get a race into her before then, but right now I see her starting in that race fresh,” Calhoun said.