By Dick Downey
Another race on the road to the Kentcky Derby was decided by a narrow margin as El Padrino got up in the final strides to outmatch Mark Valeski in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes.
Hero of Order, at 79-1 odds, led the field through fractions of :24.44, :48.72 and 1:13.15. Tracking him were Mark Valeski to his outside, El Padrino and Z Dager just behind those two.
Just as they left the second turn, Mark Valeski jumped out to a short lead over Hero of Order, and he was soon joined by El Padrino to the outside. The two bumped each other repeatedly the final 100 yards as El Padrino inched by to prevail by a nose. A stewards inquiry followed, but it was short-lived and no change was made.
Z Dager stayed on to edge Hero of Order by a half-length for third, beaten 5 1/2 lengths by the winner. The next runner was another four lengths back. At the end of the race, runners placed in the top four at every call of the race made up the superfecta.
Those four were followed across the finish line by Shared Property, Afford, Tizanexpense, Ted's Folly, Optimizer, Adena's Chance and Mr. Bowling.
The official time for El Padrino, ridden by Javier Castellano, was not stated in the official Equibase chart released after the race. The first mile of the 1 1/16-mile race was timed in 1:36.88, and the video feed showed a final time of 1:42.96.
The close finish by the top two follows precedent set this year in the Gulfstream Park Derby (Reveron won by a half-length), Pasco Stakes (Prospective by a half), Smarty Jones Stakes (Junebugred by a neck), Grade III Lecomte (Mr. Bowling by a half), Group 3 U.A.E. 2000 Guineas (Kinglet by a quarter), Grade III El Camino Real (Daddy Nose Best by a nose), Grade II San Vicente (Drill by a nose) and Grade III Southwest Stakes (Secret Circle by a half).
El Padrino was a heavy favorite after being shipped to Fair Grounds from Palm Meadows on Wednesday by trainer Todd Pletcher. Sent off at 4-5 odds, he paid $3.60, $2.80 and $2.20.
El Padrino will be returned to Florida on Monday, but next-race plans weren't immediately stated by connections on hand for the race. Trainer Todd Pletcher was in South Florida.
Mr. Bowling, stable mate of Mark Valeski, drafted in fifth down the backstretch, but he had nothing left in the lane as Robby Albarado urged him in vain.
The win by El Padrino was not nearly as impressive as many onlookers predicted, but a win is a win, and he picked up $180,000 in graded earnings from the $300,000 purse. Added to his earnings from a third-place finish in the Grade II Remsen El Padrino, "The Godfather," now has $200,000 graded stakes money.
This was El Padrino's second start of 2012 and his third win in five starts. It followed a very impressive Jan. 29 Gulfstream Park allowance victory on a sealed track rated good.
Owned by Let's Go Stable, El Padrino was bred in Kentucky by Emory A. Hamilton. He's a son of Pulpit out of the Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock. He was purchased for $210,000 at the Keeneland September 2010 Yearling Sale.
Javier Castellano, winning rider: “I was riding head-to-head with (Rosie Napravnik) and hitting my horse right-handed and she was hitting left-handed. You know I thought it not a big deal. Before the wire, we were real tight. We never had big contact, though, and I think it was a good race and a very exciting race.”
Todd Pletcher by telephone: “I thought it was a huge effort shipping into the track for the first time, and the track appeared it was playing to speed the last couple days. We chased down a really good horse, it looked like. You hope it’s the kind of race that he’ll improve forward and become battle-tested a little bit, and he’s getting a little bit more professional all the time and, hopefully, learning how to win.
“We’ll bring him back to Palm Meadows on Monday, and we’re certainly happy enough with the race today that (the Louisiana Derby) will be one of our first options. I’ll get together with the Lets Go guys and we’ll come up with a game plan but that’ll certainly be high on our list.
“I think racing is going to help him. He’s got two good mile-and-a-sixteenth races under his belt now, so this year we’ve got a good foundation, but he’s a big, strong colt, carries plenty of condition, and he’s a big, laid-back horse on a daily basis, so I think he’s the kind of horse that needs racing to get more and more fit. He’s not one to give you a huge effort every day, and that’s good in the long run, but sometimes those kind of horses take a little longer to reach their peak.”
Rosie Napravnik, rider of Mark Valeskie: “He put in a game effort. Other than the brushing down the lane, I feel like if we were on the outside we probably would’ve won it. The seven-horse bumped me just slightly down the lane a few times and was more leaning on me the whole way than anything else. Many times it feels worse than it looks and that was the case today.
Larry Jones, trainer of Mark Valeski, asked if he would run back in the Grade II Louisiana Derby: “We can see no reason not to. It was big-time race for him. He did really well. Other than that, it’s been kind of a sucky day, but yeah, that was good. Rosie felt that it did (make a difference being inside during the duel). He’s trying to get off the rail, and Javier just kept pushing him down in there. He’s trying to lean his body to stay off the rail and trying to hang in there, too. She said that if he’s on the outside they don’t beat him.”
Steve Asmussen, trainer of Z Dager: “It (his effort) was better. They flew home. I think competition had a little bit to do with it today. He ran good; he ran solid. Shane gave him a dream trip, and he ran well. You just keep moving forward, and this keeps him in the game. I’d like to proceed to the Louisiana Derby with him off of that and we’ll see what we can do.”
Larry Jones concerning Mr. Bowling: “I really don’t know, and Robby said he didn’t know. He started calling on him, and felt like he was struggling getting over the track, but we’ll see. There’s a lot of time between now and when his career’s over so we’ll figure him out.”