03/23/2012 12:32PM

Fair Grounds: Louisiana Derby could attract a baker's dozen

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Lynn Roberts
Mark Valeski (right), second to El Padrino in the in the Risen Star, is expected to be one of the favorites for the Louisiana Derby on next Sunday's closing-day card.

As long as the prospective stakes fields hold together during the next week, Fair Grounds’s 2011-2012 race meeting is going out with a loud bang.

A field that might swell to 13, headed by Risen Star stakes runner-up Mark Valeski, is expected for the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby, the featured race on the Sunday, April 1 finale, while the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap could wind up with the deepest cast in the older-route-horse division so far this season.

Fair Grounds stakes coordinator Scott Jones reported Friday that the connections of about a dozen 3-year-olds might enter their horses when the Louisiana Derby is drawn Monday. Mark Valeski, the locally based Larry Jones-trained colt who emerged from relative obscurity to finish a nose behind El Padrino in the Feb. 25 Risen Star, projects as the favorite, with Z Dager, the Risen Star third-place finisher, and Florida shipper Discreet Dancer, third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, also certain to attract significant attention.

Other possible runners are Rousing Sermon, the Southern California-based colt who finished second by a neck last December in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity; Windsurfer, a Todd Pletcher-trained, WinStar Farm-owned maiden winner on Feb. 18 at Gulfstream; Finnegans Wake, third to Hansen last out in the Gotham Stakes; Lecomte Stakes winner Mr. Bowling; Hero of Order and Afford, respectively fourth and sixth in the Risen Star; Fire Alarm, a first-level allowance winner March 2 at Fair Grounds; and Comiskey’s Humor, who set a five-furlong track record in a $10,000 maiden-claimer earlier in the meet.

Cigar Street, the Street Sense colt who won a two-turn maiden race on March 10 at Fair Grounds by more than 13 lengths, was scheduled to have a key workout Friday, but that breeze was pushed back one day because of sloppy track conditions. Trainer Steve Margolis said a decision on whether Cigar Street would start in the Louisiana Derby or the Illinois Derby a week later would probably be reached sometime later on Sunday.

Mission Impazible won the 2011 New Orleans Handicap and is expected to return for another try. He heads a strong field also expected to include 2011 Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro; Pants On Fire, the 2011 Louisiana Derby winner; Toby’s Corner, the 2011 Wood Memorial winner who will be making his first two-turn start at age 4; Redeemed, third behind Hymn Book and Mission Impazible in the Grade 1 Donn on Feb. 11; and Nates Mineshaft and Fast Alex, the one-two finishers in the Feb. 25 Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds.

The Grade 2, $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, the headline event next Saturday, figures to go with a shorter field than either of the major Sunday races, in part because several of the best members of the 3-year-old filly crop seem to be based this winter at Fair Grounds. Topping the Oaks field are Summer Applause, who won the Feb. 25 Rachel Alexandra Stakes in a sharp performance, and Avie’s Sense, who had only a maiden win atop her r é sum é before finishing a strong second in the Rachel Alexandra. Also expected for the race are Believe You Can, the Silverbulletday Stakes winner, and unbeaten Small Kitchen.