02/21/2013 4:34PM

Fair Grounds: Mark Valeski sharp for Mineshaft Handicap


NEW ORLEANS – When a trainer talks about not being able to keep a horse on the ground, what’s meant is that the horse is thriving physically, is on edge, and needs to be allowed to run fast in a race. The phrase is not meant literally – most of the time.

When Mark Valeski blazed through a 59-second five-furlong workout under Rosie Napravnik here Feb. 1, he actually could not be kept on the ground.

“Rosie said he jumped higher than she’s ever felt a horse jump a couple times on the backstretch,” trainer Larry Jones said. “He was just feeling so good. This is the best he’s ever been doing in his life.”

Mark Valeski at a career peak figures to be good enough to win the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap on Saturday, though Fair Grounds has been the past site of supremely tough losses for the 4-year-old colt. Last season, he was beaten a nose by El Padrino in the Risen Star Stakes and a half-length by huge longshot Hero of Order as the favorite in the $1 million Louisiana Derby.

Hero of Order, in fact, will tackle Mark Valeski again in the 1 1/16-mile Mineshaft, as will Infrattini, who beat Mark Valeski by three-quarters of a length in the Louisiana Handicap on Jan. 19. The race also drew Golden Ticket, who dead-heated for the win in the Travers Stakes last summer, and Cool Street, who has won four races in a row this winter at Fair Grounds.

[FAIR GROUNDS: Get PPs, watch video previews of Saturday's stakes]

The Louisiana Handicap was Mark Valeski’s first start since he won the Peter Pan Stakes on May  12 at Belmont Park. Mark Valeski had worked with good energy before his comeback race, and Jones has a knack for readying horses to run after a layoff, but Mark Valeski looked from the outside like a tired horse the last half-furlong of the Louisiana Handicap, an impression Jones confirmed soon afterward.

“That race really should have him set up to move forward,” Jones said. “You just hope they come out of the race good the way he has.”

Infrattini could prove a stubborn foe again Saturday. He’s won four races in a row at four different tracks and has hit a higher baseline performance level since trainer Paul McGee began racing Infrattini in blinkers last summer.

“You figure Mark Valeski is going to be a little tighter this time, and the race probably is a little tougher, but my horse is doing really, really well right now,” McGee said.

Golden Ticket didn’t run back to his Travers tie with Alpha in two starts last fall, but appeared to be back on form in a sharp second-level allowance win Jan. 26 at Gulfstream. He’s come back since that race to work sharply for trainer Ken McPeek.

Cool Street already has put together a remarkable run this winter, coming to Fair Grounds a maiden before winning his first race and running through three allowance conditions in just six weeks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse do that in such a short time,” veteran trainer Bernie Flint said.

Even Hero of Order could make his presence felt again in the Mineshaft, and he almost certainly will be a pace factor. After a fruitless second half of 2012, he returned to action here Feb.  2 with a strong runner-up finish to talented Bind in a sprint allowance.