El Padrino, one of several Kentucky Derby prospects in the well-stocked barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, ships into Fair Grounds in search of graded earnings in Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes. His 10 rivals include the respective top three finishers from the Grade 3 Lecomte here -- Mr. Bowling, Z Dager and Shared Property -- as well as new shooters Mark Valeski, Optimizer, Afford and Tizanexpense.
As the major local prep for the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby on April 1, the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star anchors a six-stakes program dubbed Louisiana Derby Preview Day.
Based at Palm Meadows, Pletcher's winter headquarters in South Florida, El Padrino comes off one of the new year's most impressive allowance/optional claiming victories. In that January 29 event at Gulfstream Park, the well-bred son of Pulpit powered past a useful rival in Take Charge Indy and opened up by two lengths. El Padrino finished 1 1/16 miles in a razor-sharp 1:42 3/5 and netted a gaudy 111 BRIS Speed rating.
But as talented as El Padrino is, and has strongly as he has been training, the chestnut stands in need of graded earnings to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. His only prior stakes attempt, a fast-closing third in the Grade 2 Remsen on November 26 at Aqueduct, furnished him just $20,000. With his stablemates Algorithms and Discreet Dancer bound for next Sunday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, El Padrino is hitting the road to help his bankroll.
Javier Castellano, who picked up the mount aboard El Padrino last time, will be back aboard as the likely favorite breaks from post 8. Should the historic New Orleans track get some rain on Louisiana Derby Preview Day, El Padrino won't mind. Both of his wins, a Belmont Park maiden romp and the aforementioned Gulfstream race, took place on off tracks.
Those exiting the Lecomte are out to prove a point, and defend their credentials on the Derby trail. Observers have noted that the victorious Mr. Bowling took 1:43 2/5 to negotiate the mile and 70 yards of the Lecomte, a considerably slower time than the 1:42 1/5 posted by the filly Believe You Can in the Silverbulletday on the same January 21 card.
On the other hand, the Lecomte principals are all entitled to improve in the Risen Star. Mr. Bowling was returning from a nearly three-month layoff, Z Dager betrayed his inexperience in his first start off a maiden win, and Shared Property was hung out wide the whole way in his comeback.
Mr. Bowling, who is coupled in the wagering with fellow Larry Jones trainee Mark Valeski, is two-for-two going two turns. A 7 1/4-length hero of the Dover Stakes at Delaware Park last October, he cut back to a one-turn mile for the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs on October 30, winding up third to Derby hopeful Motor City.
Mr. Bowling did not resurface until the Lecomte, where he was much happier back around two turns. Showing great resolve down the stretch, he fought off Z Dager by a head. Mr. Bowling projects a similar stalking trip, again drawn in post 3 with Robby Albarado.
While Mr. Bowling has more seasoning under his belt, stablemate Mark Valeski has the look of a real up-and-comer in his stakes premiere. Like his entrymate, Mark Valeski is a homebred campaigned by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones. The son of Proud Citizen is untested at this level, and going a route of ground, but has flashed serious potential.
Fourth to Union Rags in their mutual career debut, Mark Valeski came back to trounce subsequent stakes winner Ancient Rome in a September 27 Delaware Park maiden. He was shelved until January 13 at Fair Grounds, returning with a strong optional claiming score at six furlongs. Mark Valeski has been working forwardly in the interim, including a bullet six-furlong drill in 1:12 3/5 on February 13. He picks up the services of meet-leading rider Rosie Napravnik, who will guide the intriguing dark horse from post 9.
Z Dager represents the ever-dangerous Steve Asmussen barn. Sixth to his well-regarded stablemate Wharton first time out at Churchill, Z Dager stretched out to take a Fair Grounds maiden, defeating another hot prospect in Sir Bond. The Zayat Stables colt ran well in the Lecomte, only to be outdueled by a savvier rival in Mr. Bowling. Shane Sellers retains the Risen Star mount.
The Tom Amoss-trained Shared Property won his first two career starts, an Ellis Park maiden over eventual Iroquois winner Motor City and the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity over Take Charge Indy. Sidelined for more than three months following his sixth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity on October 8, Shared Property was compromised by post 13 in the Lecomte, where fitness was an issue as well. He figures to be fitter on Saturday, but drew poorly again in post 10 with regular rider Leandro Goncalves.
Ted's Folly finished ninth in the Lecomte, snapping a six-race winning streak compiled at Remington Park. The last three wins came in stakes, capped by the Springboard Mile. Rounding out the Lecomte alumni are Hero of Order (fifth) and Adena's Chance (10th), entrymates from the Gennadi Dorochenko barn.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas sends Optimizer down from Oaklawn Park. Winless since his debut score on the turf at Saratoga, he has been pitched into top company with intermittent results, such as a third in the Breeders' Futurity but an eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Optimizer aims to rebound from a dull sixth in the January 16 Smarty Jones Stakes.
Afford, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, wheels back 16 days after a photo-finish optional claiming win at Fair Grounds. Two starts back, the Greg Geier pupil was third in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes. Tizanexpense has won his last two over the track, a maiden and optional claimer, and takes a class test for Mike Maker. The Tiznow colt must overcome being drawn widest of all in post 11.