03/27/2012 4:31PM

Fair Grounds: Mark Valeski has brisk work for Louisiana Derby

Alexander Barkoff/Hodges Photography
Mark Valeski works five furlongs on Tuesday at Fair Grounds in the fastest time of 14 works at the distance that day.

NEW ORLEANS – Mark Valeski did nothing in a Tuesday morning workout to suggest he isn’t a deserving favorite in Sunday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby, breezing a brisk five furlongs in 1:00.60 under race-rider Rosie Napravnik. The drill earned a bullet, though Tuesday was a light work day at Fair Grounds, with only 14 horses posting five-furlong breezes.

Mark Valeski was the second horse to work Tuesday following the daily renovation break, coming onto the track just past 8:30 accompanied by two ponies, one ridden by trainer Larry Jones, the other by his wife and assistant trainer, Cindy Jones. After backtracking from the six-furlong gap to the finish wire, Mark Valeski stopped only briefly before turning counterclockwise and going back the way he had come, this time at a swifter tempo. Mark Valeski broke off smoothly and came past the wire with good energy while under no real encouragement from Napravnik.

“I loved the way he came home,” Larry Jones said about a half-hour after the work.

Sore shins limited Mark Valeski’s 2-year-old campaign to a pair of starts, and a minor illness after shipping to Fair Grounds in early November might have kept him from racing earlier in the Fair Grounds meet, but Mark Valeski announced his presence with a strong first-level sprint allowance win on Jan. 13 before coming within a nose of El Padrino while second in the Feb. 25 Risen Star, his stakes and two-turn debut. The period since that performance has given Mark Valeski’s connections the firm idea they have a Kentucky Derby contender on their hands.

“I gallop him most of the week, and I loved the way he came out of the last work before this one,” said Jones.

Jones said following Monday’s Louisiana Derby post position draw that Mark Valeski, a Brereton Jones-owned homebred by Proud Citizen, had gained fitness since the Risen Star.

“I think he can run better. I thought he was a little overweight last time for his first time going long,” Jones said.

Mark Valeski will walk the shed row one day before returning to the track for a jog or a gallop Thursday.

Asmussen pair hit track

Steve Asmussen’s horses for Sunday stakes races here, Nehro and Z Dager, both turned in easy half-mile workouts early Tuesday morning. Both horses worked alone (Shaun Bridgmohan was aboard Nehro) and were timed in 50.20 seconds.

“Just a smooth half-mile for both of them” assistant trainer Darren Fleming said.

Three-year-old Z Dager remains eligible for a first-level allowance race after four career starts but figures to be no worse than third or fourth choice in the $1 million Louisiana Derby. A Mizzen Mast colt, Z Dager won a two-turn maiden race in December, finished second by a nose in the Jan. 21 Lecomte, and was third, beaten a little more than five lengths, in the Feb. 25 Risen Star.

“He’s improved and stepped up since his maiden race,” Fleming said. “He’s trained a little better every day since his maiden win.”

Nehro will be part of a deep, strong field in the New Orleans Handicap, and has a good chance to come forward after easily winning a first-level allowance race on Feb. 25, his first start since the 2011 Belmont Stakes.

“He bounced back really quick from that race,” Fleming said. “I think it was a perfect prep.”

Hoops dreams come through

Fair Grounds is preparing for an influx of out of-town patrons for Sunday’s card, which was purposely situated between the national semi-final games of the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball championship Saturday and the final game Monday.

And the influx could be substantial.

One of the semifinal games, which will be played at the New Orleans Superdome, pits the University of Louisville against the University of Kentucky, and those two fan bases figures to generate a greater possible number of racing patrons for Sunday’s card than would have been the case with any other combination of teams.

“We had a pipe dream of Louisville or Kentucky making it to the Final Four,” said Fair Grounds vice president assistant general manager Eric Halstrom. “To have both is very special.”

Halstrom said about 8,000 patrons attended the 2011 Louisiana Derby card, and that Fair Grounds estimates it might get an additional 3,000 fans because of the Final Four. The track, Halstrom said, can comfortably accommodate 10,000 to 12,000 people, but beyond that, things could get tricky in terms of parking, seating, betting, and, especially, concessions.

“We’re at red alert, emergency status as far as food and drink,” Halstrom said.

Halstrom said Fair Grounds considered limiting advertising for the Sunday program out of concern for overcrowding, but in the end decided to attempt to attract as many fans as possible.

“I’d say we look at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.

◗ Friday’s marathon 18-race card begins at 12:40 p.m. and has a scheduled final post time of 9:45, and – believe it or not – a 10-cent pick 18 is being offered. A 10-cent base bet using two horses in every race costs a mere $26,214.40. There is a mandatory payout on the pick 18 going to the tickets that have the most winners.


Morris More than 1 year ago
everyone is intitled to an opinion. but good horse players put their money where their mouth is. i say its about 5 to 3 that the top kd contenders come out of the arkansas derby. plus union rags. gamble anyone?
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
If you Really believe in El Padrino and you really believe that El Padrino is rated right where he ought to be - well then - Mark Veleski should Win the Louisiana Derby hands down , with absolute no problems . Because there isnt a El Padrino in this line-up , and according to what we all witness not too long ago was a very close 2nd place finisher in Mak Veleski . That Is Only If You Believe In El Padrino ..................... Which I dont at all . I have El Padrino ranked 6th : Which is still a very high ranking given the fact that has much to prove as of yet . I myself , dont see Mark Veleski making a very strong impact on the race track in the Louisiana Derby . I see a bounce coming big-time . Both Colts in their last race didnt look that impresive thru the last 100 yards , and the gallop out was worse yet . So that puzzles my thinking some-what . My Opinion By El Padrino Being Too Over-rated leaves me to believe there is a big Upset in the making ( Another Pletcher Colt ) WINDSURFER ! With the Breaking News about EXPRESS.BET Sponsoring JULIEN LEPAROUX aboard UNION RAGS in the Florida Derby - You will see an extra boost of energy in UNION RAGS , so by all means , El Padrino really needs to just focus on 2nd place , and to make sure they secure that spot because they have very little chance at defeating UNION RAGS in the Florida Derby , like next to none
Brandon More than 1 year ago
The real question is how hard they will try with union. If they get in a bad spot Julien won't run him into the ground or risk anything to win that race with the Derby on the horizon.
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
With EXPRESS.BET coming aboard to take full advantage of Julien Leparoux wearing their LOGO on his silks - with a field of seven - You can bank on UNION RAGS with Julien Leparoux . UNION RAGS should run a 102 / 103 Beyer in the Florida Derby , which will be good enough to still add fuel to the fire for the KENTUCKY DERBY . The Stable of Union Rags and Leparoux ( ALREADY KNOW ) that IF Leparoux gets a clean trip , this race will be a larger win margin than Union Rags previous by an easy 4 in front . They are not worried about El Padrino , TRUST ME ! El Padrino with their connections know with a small field of seven , ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS BEAT ( 5 OTHER COLTS ) in the Florida Derby . That is there way of thinking . ALPHA and connections Never Really Wanted Any Part O f Union Rags At This Time . They even said that in their inter-view . They didnt want any part of Hansen at this time neither . That is why ALPHA will regroup and take their chance in the Wood Memorial . The connections of Union Rags will have him plenty winded up for this trip . Would not surprise me if they get a 104 Beyer and still be under a hand ride . Anyone that has been in Florida scouting Union Rags will back my statement up 100% ! The Florida Derby , you will see the BEST of Union Rags anyone has seen thus far , and Julien Leparoux is more than ready to HUSH UP THE NATION in ( W H O M ) is the BEST COLT GOING INTO THE KENTUCKY DERBY . I feel sorry for any-one that may think diffrent in the Florida Derby . WHAT A GREAT MOVE BY EXPRESS.BET
Kenny H More than 1 year ago
Dude....you sound like you work for express bet!