01/17/2013 4:55PM

Fair Grounds: Mark Valeski looking sharp for return in Louisiana Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Mark Valeski has logged six published Fair Grounds workouts for his return, and three of them were bullet drills.

Mark Valeski seemed just to be getting good late last spring when injury cut short his 3-year-old campaign, and a more mature 4-year-old version of the colt is ready for a comeback in the $100,000 Louisiana Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

“He’s a lot bigger and stronger, and just working much better now,” trainer Larry Jones said. “We have some pretty high hopes for him this year.”

The Louisiana Handicap, over 1 1/16 miles on dirt, should provide a good barometer for the 2013 edition of Mark Valeski. The seven horses entered against him aren’t proven graded-stakes performers, and Mark Valeski ought to be competitive even at something less than top form in his first race since May 11.

“This horse should be ready to run okay,” said Jones. “Is he at 100 percent? No, but he’s worked pretty sharp, and he’s galloped out good. He’s as prepared as we’ll get one for their first time back.”

Mark Valeski, who will break from the rail under Rosie Napravnik, has logged six published Fair Grounds workouts for his return, and three of them were bullet drills, including a pair of five-furlong works where Mark Valeski broke 1:00, fast by Fair Grounds standards. The colt’s fondness for the local main track is not in question: He won a first-level allowance sprint in excellent fashion about this time in 2012 before taking tough losses in the Risen Star, where he was beaten a nose by El Padrino, and the Louisiana Derby, where epic upsetter Hero of Order held him off by a half-length.

Hero of Order’s trainer, Gennadi Dorochenko, actually has a runner for the Louisiana, but Macho Bull poses less threat to the likely favorite than several others. Infrattini makes his first start since setting a track record at Churchill Downs in a Nov. 22 allowance race, but there are valid reasons to wonder if Infrattini can come close to that performance level Saturday. His record-setting win came in a one-turn mile, and Infrattini appears to have a special fondness for Churchill’s racing surface, while at Fair Grounds he has won 1 of 5 starts.

Hurricane Ike bravely held Brethren off scoring a front-running win in the Dec. 15 Tenacious Handicap at Fair Grounds, but did so with an assist from a slow pace. Both horses return for the Louisiana, and while there’s a chance Hurricane Ike steals off to an easy lead again, fractions Saturday figure faster, which could help Brethren.

“He’s getting a tad better the last couple races,” said Brethren’s trainer, Steve Asmussen.

Two horses will make their first start for a new barn, with Raison d’Etat moving from Bill Mott to Wayne Lukas, and Self Control from Chad Brown to Wayne Catalano. Neither horse has raced before at Fair Grounds.