03/26/2012 2:57PM

Fair Grounds: Louisiana Derby attracts field of 14

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Lynn Roberts
Mark Valeski (right), second to El Padrino in the in the Risen Star, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for Sunday's Louisiana Derby.

NEW ORLEANS -- The starting gate for the Louisiana Derby on Sunday at Fair Grounds will be crammed full of 3-year-olds. Fourteen of them were entered during Monday’s post-position draw, and if all start the field will be the race’s largest since 1962. But it seems fair to wonder whether there is much strength in those numbers.

Mark Valeski, the 2-1 morning-line favorite on the line Fair Grounds oddsmaker Mike Diliberto, definitely looked like a talented animal finishing second by a nose to El Padrino in the Risen Star Stakes, his first two-turn race. But El Padrino is not coming for the Louisiana Derby, nor, it was discovered Monday, is his Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate, Discreet Dancer, and the 7-2 second-choice in this $1 million Kentucky Derby prep is Cigar Street, who has won all of one race in a two-start career.

The lack of multiple top-class prospects helps explain the massive field, which includes horses as little proven as Flashy Sunrise, a maiden who was beaten almost 14 lengths by Cigar Street earlier this month. Mark Valeski, though, was lucky at the draw, landing post 8, just outside his entry-mate, Mr. Bowling, who won the Lecomte Stakes here but disappointed in the Risen Star.

“That’s a good draw,” said trainer Larry Jones. “We’ll be able to get out there and kind of watch what other people are doing.”

Rosie Napravnik, who won the 2011 Louisiana Derby with Pants On Fire, has the mount on Mark Valeski. Robby Albarado rides Mr. Bowling, who worked a bullet five furlongs on 1:00.40 in company with Fair Grounds Oaks starter Believe You Can on Monday morning.

Cigar Street landed post 4 for his first try against other winners. Because his blowout maiden win came so recently, on March 10, Cigar Street had also been under consideration for the Arkansas Derby and the Illinois Derby, but a solid five-furlong work in 1:01.20 Sunday morning cemented Cigar Street’s participation here this weekend.

Z Dager, second in the Lecomte and third in the Risen Star, drew post 11, while another local with at least a minor chance, Shared Property, will break from post 6. Afford, who got post 14, and Fire Alarm, who breaks from the rail, took the worst of the draw.

Pletcher has picked out Windsurfer, a Feb. 18 maiden-route winner at Gulfstream, as his Louisiana Derby starter. Windsurfer and John Velazquez break from post 2, while another Florida shipper, Finnegans Wake, has post 3. Finnegans Wake got to town early and worked five furlongs here Saturday in a snappy 59.80 seconds. Arm Force, another Florida-based maiden winner, breaks from post 9 with Julien Leparoux named. Rousing Sermon, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, is the only California shipper; he and jockey Mike Smith drew post 12.

The Louisiana Derby is carded as race 10 (post time 4:55 p.m. Central) on a 14-race program that begins at 12:10 p.m., and is one of three Grade 2 races on the card along with the Mervin Muniz and the New Orleans Handicap. The Muniz, headed by defending champion Smart Bid, drew a competitive field of 11. The New Orleans Handicap, however, looks especially appealing, with 2011 winner Mission Impazible scheduled to square off against Nehro, Nates Mineshaft, Toby’s Corner, Redeemed, Pants On Fire, and three others.

The card also includes three other stakes races, among them the $150,000 Duncan Kenner, a sprint that features the third meeting of the winter between evenly matched Gantry and Cash Refund.