01/22/2013 4:52PM

Fair Grounds notes: Larry Jones at peace with weekend defeats of Mark Valeski, Smitten

Lynn Roberts
Infrattini (left), with Miguel Mena riding, battles pastInfrattini (left), with Miguel Mena riding, battles past Mark Valeski in deep stretch to win the Louisiana Handicap.

Larry Jones didn’t win a Saturday stakes at Fair Grounds, but the losses he took left him optimistic. Mark Valeski finished second in the Louisiana Handicap, a race he probably needed for fitness, while 3-year-old filly Smitten rallied for third in the Silverbulletday, a race she probably needed for experience.

Mark Valeski, unraced since May 12 because of a knee injury, pressed Hurricane Ike’s slow pace in the Louisiana Handicap, but could not hold clear Infrattini while drifting out in the final furlong.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt he got tired,” Jones said Monday. “I thought we had him fit enough to get the job done. He drank a lot of water, more than I’ve ever seen him drink, but he’s fine. He came out of it really good, and hopefully that’s going to move him forward.”

Jones said Mark Valeski is a likely starter in the Feb. 23 Mineshaft Handicap, which Jones hopes to use as a stepping-stone to the New Orleans Handicap.

Smitten, making her fourth career start and first since winning a maiden race, broke from the outside post in a 10-horse Silverbulletday, and after being steered toward the rail, wound up last behind modest fractions for the race’s first half. She made a sustained run starting at the half-mile pole, ran wide around the far turn, and still was gaining on the race’s top two, Touch Magic and Gal About Town, at the finish.

“I was real pleased, considering where we were after a half-mile,” Jones said. “When she broke her maiden, she put herself in a pretty good spot, and we were expecting that again, but this time, she kind of said, ‘If you’re going to let me sit way back here, I’m going to.’ She’s still green on the racing part. She’s not aggressive yet at all.”

That being the case, and still hoping he has a horse worthy of the Fair Grounds Oaks, Jones intends to start Smitten in the Feb. 23 Rachel Alexandra.

“The rhythm of the races should be good for her,” he said.

If all goes as planned, Jones will have two Rachel Alexandra starters, with Dancinginthecircle also an intended runner. Dancinginthecircle, who has flashed talent since her debut last July, won a $100,000 Delta Downs stakes by nine lengths Jan. 4. The two fillies have divergent racing styles, with Dancinginthecircle a forward-running filly.

Four-year-old filly Believe You Can remains on course to make her 2013 debut in the Feb. 2 Tiffany Lass after working five furlongs in bullet 1:00 on Jan. 17.

“She doesn’t need it, but she’ll have one more work before her race,” Jones said.

And finally, Jones sends Joyful Victory to Sam Houston for the $400,000 Ladies Classic on Saturday.

Infrattini likely to pass Mineshaft

If Mark Valeski does come back in the Mineshaft, there’s a good chance he won’t meet Infrattini again. Infrattini’s trainer, Paul McGee, said Monday that he and owner-breeder Michael Zlatec of Z Thoroughbreds LLC were considering passing the Mineshaft.

“We’re not going to rule it out completely, but we’re leaning towards skipping it and pointing for the New Orleans Handicap,” McGee said.

Since being gelded early in 2012, Infrattini has won 4 of 6 starts. Since he started racing in blinkers, he has won 4 of 5, and Saturday’s Louisiana Handicap, his first start after setting a one-mile track record at Churchill, was his fourth straight win.

“It’s been a combination of a few things that have helped him,” McGee said.

Races finally getting back on grass

Fair Grounds observers should be prepared to see something shocking Thursday: Turf racing.

There has been only one grass race at Fair Grounds since Jan. 1, with a series of storms and untimely showers combining to force races carded for turf onto the main track. Fair Grounds even went so far as to move two turf stakes, the Colonel Bradley and the Marie Krantz, from Jan. 19 to 26 figuring there was no chance of using the course last Saturday. Turf racing was abandoned all the way through Jan. 21, despite no measureable rain falling in New Orleans after Jan. 16.

“I don’t think there’s a drainage issue on the course any more than any other point in time,” the track’s general manager and vice president of racing, Eric Halstrom, said Monday. “In the middle of last week it was so wet, we weren’t quite sure whether we would make it Sunday or Monday, so we let horsemen know we were going to take the whole week off. I was out there this morning, and it was usable today, but by Thursday it will be great. It’s almost like starting with a brand-new turf course. It’s been painful not being able to use it, but would it have been smart trying to push it?”