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Mark Valeski works for Louisiana Derby

  • Mark Valeski (right) has pleased Larry Jones with his preparations for the Louisiana Derby (Lou Hodges Jr.)

Mark Valeski, an excellent nose second in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes February 25, put the finishing touches on his preparations for Sunday's 99th running of the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby when breezing five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 Tuesday morning at Fair Grounds.

Mark Valeski is one-half of the Larry Jones-trained favored entry at 2-1 for the annual centerpiece event of the New Orleans Thoroughbred racing season.

"It was a very good morning for us (with Mark Valeski)," Jones said after the move. "I got splits of 12 and three, 25 flat, 37 and two and 49 and one, and then got him galloping out in 1:13 and two. That means he did a 12 and two, another 12 and two, and then two 11 and fours, so he got the last quarter in 23 and change."

Track clockers recorded the same splits as Jones, although they caught the gallop out in 1:14.

"I like the way we're coming into this race," Jones said. "This has got us in a situation that we like to be in. He didn't work quite as fast today as he did right before the Risen Star, but then again he went a little faster than I wanted the last time (a bullet five-eighths in 59 2/5 March 20). Also, this horse is a little further along than he was before the Risen Star."

Mark Valeski broke his maiden in late September, winning his second career start by a 4 1/2-length margin at Delaware Park, but was not seen again under silks until January 13, posting a one-length allowance score at Fair Grounds. Owned by Brereton Jones, the Proud Citizen colt made his two-turn debut in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star and turned in a game performance in defeat, just missing to El Padrino following a prolonged stretch battle.

El Padrino will bypass the Louisiana Derby in favor of Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby, leaving Mark Valeski as the probable strong favorite among 14 rivals.

Fair Grounds' defending jockey champion Rosie Napravnik, already assured of her second straight local title, was aboard Mark Valeski for Tuesday's morning move and will ride the colt Sunday in pursuit of her second straight Louisiana Derby win.

"Mr. Bowling (the other half of the Jones-owned entry and winner of the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds January 21) worked yesterday (March 26 in 1:00 2/5)," Jones added, "so he just walked today. I like where we're at with both horses."

Seven-time Fair Grounds jockey champion Robby Albarado will ride Mr. Bowling Sunday.

Z Dager, installed as the 8-1 fourth choice on the Louisiana Derby morning line, tuned up with a half-mile breeze in 50 1/5 Tuesday morning. Track clockers caught splits of 13 2/5, 25 3/5 and 37 4/5 for the Mizzen Mast colt.

Conditioned by 10-time Fair Grounds champion trainer and two-time Eclipse Award-winner Steve Asmussen, Z Dager has finished second in the Grade 3 Lecomte and third in the Grade 2 Risen Star this year.

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