- Road to the Kentucky Derby
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Mark Valeski tops 14-horse cast for Louisiana Derby
Fair Grounds will conclude its 2011-12 meet on Sunday with 14 races, including the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby over 1 1/8 miles. The classic prep itself drew a full field of 14, with former Kentucky governor Brereton Jones' coupled entry of Mark Valeski and and Mr. Bowling expected to attract the most support.
Mark Valeski and Mr. Bowling also ran coupled in the Grade 2 Risen Star on February 25, the major local prep for the Louisiana Derby. Mr. Bowling was perhaps the more highly-rated of the two entering the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star coming off a head victory in the Grade 3 Lecomte the month before, but it was Mark Valeski who proved to be the more dominant of the Larry Jones-trained pair.
A tracking second for most of the Risen Star, the allowance-winning Mark Valeski seized control with just over a furlong remaining and then dueled down the long Fair Grounds stretch with the Todd Pletcher-trained El Padrino. In one of the more exciting classic preps run this spring, Mark Valeski fought tooth and nail to hold on but just failed to by a nose against El Padrino, who is targeting Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby.
Mr. Bowling crossed the wire last of 11 in the Risen Star with no apparent excuses. Entitled to an off day like anyone, Mr. Bowling returns with Robby Albarado in the saddle, while Rosie Napravnik, who rode Pants on Fire to victory in last year's Louisiana Derby, retains the mount on Mark Valeski.
Perhaps the most exciting of the new challengers is Cigar Street, who overwhelmed a maiden field by 13 3/4 lengths going 1 1/16 miles on March 10. A troubled fifth in his debut in early February, the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense rebounded to wire that group and earned a 100 BRIS Speed rating. Cigar Street, whose dam is a half-sister to two-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Cigar, is trained by Steve Margolis and will be ridden again by Shaun Bridgmohan.
Z Dager and Shared Property both contested the Lecomte and Risen Star with mixed results. Z Dager missed by a head to Mr. Bowling in the Lecomte, but was no match when third in the Risen Star, more than five lengths in back of Mark Valeski. Shared Property, who captured the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity last fall, was a wide-trip third in the Lecomte and was expected to improve off that try in the Risen Star. However, the colt raced in midpack throughout and never proffered a run while finishing 10 lengths back in fifth. He will race with blinkers for the first time in the Louisiana Derby.
Among the out-of-town raiders are Finnegans Wake, a distant third to champion Hansen in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct on March 3; Grade 1 CashCall Futurity runner-up Rousing Sermon, who's struggled in two Grade 2 appearances at Santa Anita this winter for Jerry Hollendorfer; and the Gulfstream maiden-winning pair of Windsurfer and Arm Force. The latter is a full brother to former Dubai World Cup hero Well Armed.
The Louisiana Derby field is completed by Hero of Order and Afford, fourth and sixth, respectively in the Risen Star; last-out Fair Grounds allowance winner Fire Alarm; Comisky's Humor, who beat $10,000 maiden claimers and starter allowance foes by a combined 18 lengths in his last two starts; and the maiden Flashy Sunrise, second to Cigar Street last time.