The Morning Line: Louisiana Derby

Mark Valeski Returns at the Fair Grounds

Mark Valeski duels El Padrino in the Risen Star

The final stage of the Kentucky Derby Prep season has arrived. It is the place along the trail that major graded stakes races are run and earnings are won. In the great city of New Orleans it’s the $1 Million Louisiana Derby that still has tickets for admission into the 138th Kentucky Derby. Lined up is a large field of 14 but only a few will be so lucky to have those tickets punched. Headlining the final step on the road from Louisiana to the Blue Grass State is a local connection that has the chance to beat this evenly matched field and become a serious Kentucky Derby contender.

Mark Valeski is a horse that only recently emerged onto the scene but did so in such convincing fashion. Prior to entering the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes here at the Fair Grounds he was just a lightly raced colt that stood no chance against the likes of El Padrino, a highly touted Derby Contender trained by Todd Pletcher. By the end of the race their margin of separation had closed all the way down to a nose. The battle down the stretch for 2nd place was a remarkable effort and deservedly credits him as the favorite. 

By Proud Citizen – Pocho’s Dream Girl and Trained by Larry Jones the Kentucky Bred colt still needs to prove that the Risen Star was not a one hit wonder. Coming into 2012 Mark Valeski had only run in a pair of MSW races at Delaware Park last summer before racing again at the Fair Grounds in January. The win in that race, 6F Alw OC, was enough for Larry Jones to give him the nod for the Risen Star a decision that now makes so much more sense. The Risen Star showed he’s game for going toe to toe against top rated talent but the Louisiana Derby will prove if he’s ready to do it again. Rosie Napravnik, the leading meet rider in wins and earnings, is scheduled to return in the irons.

Larry Jones is a fantastic trainer and he couldn’t be happier with Mark Valeski’s showing at his home track down south. Coupled with him in the Louisiana Derby is Mr. Bowling, also owned by Brereton Jones. Mr. Bowling will be looking to get back on track after following up his early win in the LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds with a disappointing 11th in the Risen Star. Both are tracking well in workouts but the clear advantage stays with Mark Valeski.

Handicapper Advantage: Ready to Race – Based on Mark Valeski’s recent works at the Fair Grounds he is geared up and ready to roll – 3/27 5F 1:00.60 – Rank 1/14; 3/20 5F :59.40 – Rank 1/11

Like Mr. Bowling there are three other horses that are staying home in New Orleans this weekend making it their third consecutive Kentucky Derby prep at the Fair Grounds – Z Dager, Shared Property, and Hero of Order. Order of finish in the first two races is the main reason that Z Dager is rewarded with slight advantage over Shared Property on the morning line – 2nd in LeComte, 3rd in Risen Star – but trainer Steve Asmussen having a nice day last Saturday with a win in the Sunland Derby might also help just a bit. Shared Property – 3rd in LeComte, 5th in Risen Star – did have a graded stakes win in his 2-yr-old season but he is still searching to find the winning edge on the dirt as that win was on the Synthetic track at Arlington Park.

Handicapper Advantage: Steve Asmussen – Steve nearly won this race for the 3rd time last year when Nehro (also owned by Zayat Stables) was narrowly defeated and finished 2nd. Steve won the Louisiana Derby with Fifty Stars in 2001 and Pyro in 2008.

The West Coast shipper of the field is Rousing Sermon who will for the very first time be digging his hooves into a track outside of California. His last time out marked the first time in his career that he finished out of the money, 5th in the San Felipe. He broke late and after turning 5 wide was unable to bid from well off the pace. Prior his lone race in 2012 was a 3rd place finish in the Robert B. Lewis, also at Santa Anita. So far his best performances are from his 2-yr-old season when he ran 2nd in the Grade 1 CashCall and scored in the California Cup Juvenile. Rousing Sermon seems built for distance but has had problems closing from off the pace his last few races. It will be interesting to see how he fares outside of California and with a new jockey up. Joe Talamo who was aboard the last 4 races is not making the trip to New Orleans so Mike Smith will take over in the saddle for the very first time.

Handicapper Advantage: Racing Vs. Class – Rousing Sermon stands out in the field as the colt that has consistently raced in the company of some top rated derby contenders – Creative Cause, Bodemeister, I’ll Have Another and Liaison. That advantage could pay off against this field.

A more interesting bid to the Kentucky Derby comes from two MSW runners that have waited until now to make their graded stakes debut. Cigar Street and Flashy Sunrise return after finishing 1st and 2nd on March 3 in a 1 1/16 mile MSW test at the Fair Grounds. Cigar Street is getting the huge bump on the morning line by odds maker Mike Dileberto, second choice at 7-2, because he didn’t win his second career race, he dominated. The margin was just over 13 lengths and he looked like he still had more in the tank after crossing the wire – Final time 1:43.75, beyer speed rating 99. Trained by Steve Margolis, the son of Street Sense is going be a late addition to the derby contenders if he is able to prove his last race wasn’t just romp against ungraded class.

Flashy Sunrise on the other hand is MSW veteran that fell to 0-7 after losing to Cigar Street. Trained by Dallas Stewart and owned by West Point Thoroughbreds this colt ended his 2-yr-old season with two consecutive 3rd place finishes and then started his 3-yr-old season with two consecutive 2nd place finishes. I can’t discount what his connections are seeing but Flashy Sunrise, a non-winner in 7 starts, is a very surprising entry. It will be interesting to see if this sleeper has more than he’s shown.

Handicapping Advantage: Exotic Spoiler – I am leaning towards leaving both of them out but they could very easily make their way in. If so they could become a nice addition to any trifecta – superfecta wagers.

G2 $1Million Louisiana Derby | 1 1/8 Mile | Dirt | Race 10, Post Time 4:55                          PP  Horse                             Jockey                     Trainer             Odds

  1. Fire Alarm                     M. Mena                B. Calhoun        20-1
  2. Windsurfer                    J. Velazquez         T. Pletcher         12-1
  3. Finnegans Wake          C. Lanerie              D. Romans        15-1
  4. Flashy Sunrise              R. Maragh             D. Stewart         30-1
  5. Cigar Street                   S. Bridgmohan     S. Margolis         7-2
  6. Shared Property           L. Goncalves         T.  Amoss           10-1
  7. Mr. Bowling                  R. Albarado           L. Jones              2-1
  8. Mark Valeski                 R. Napravnik        L. Jones              2-1
  9. Arm Force                     J. Leparoux           E. Harty              20-1
  10. Comisky’s Humor        R. Eramia              R. Faucheux       20-1
  11. Z Dager                          S. Sellers                S. Asmussen       8-1
  12. Rousing Sermon          M. Smith               J. Hollendorfer   6-1
  13. Hero of Order               E. Martin Jr.         G. Dorochenko   30-1
  14. Afford                             J. Graham             G. Geier               15-1

The Graded Stakes Earnings Factor

The winner is guaranteed an entry into the Kentucky Derby while some who have yet to earn a dime will be in jeopardy because a 2nd or 3rd place reward may still not be enough. Leading the entries for the Louisiana Derby in this category is Rousing Sermon, ranked at #19 with $170,000. Behind him are four horses that are all ranked outside the top 20: Mr. Bowling ($115,848) Shared Property ($79,700) Z Dager ($65,000) and Mark Valeski ($60,000). Rousing Sermon and Mr. Bowling can still make a huge leap into the Kentucky Derby field with a 2nd or 3rd place finish but the other three should try to stay inside the top 2 in order to keep their derby dreams firmly alive. A 3rd place won’t absolutely eliminate them but it will most likely lead to being placed on the bubble.

The Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby

Of the Major Preps the Louisiana Derby has the fewest Kentucky Derby winners; only 3. Black Gold won both in 1924 and Grindstone followed suit in 1996. In 2003 it was Funny Cide that finished 3rd here before moving on to win the run for the roses. The trend is picking up considering there were 2 in less than 10 years and I expect another to come from the Bayou very soon. Will 2012 be the next time?

In the meantime, good luck to all of our Louisiana Derby entries and their connections. We hope your trip goes well and for a selected few, we also hope to see you again on the first Saturday in May.

Written by: Little Brink

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