South Florida-based Alpha, easy winner of the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct on Feb. 4, is now considered probable for the Grade II Louisiana Derby.
“The chances are very good that we’re coming that way,” McLaughlin said of the million-dollar race. “Simon Crisford is the one who makes these decisions, and we had talked yesterday, back and forth on e-mail, and we agreed that the Fair Grounds is a good spot. We will stay here in Florida and work this last time, make sure all is well for everybody going into the Florida Derby, and then we’ll enter at the Fair Grounds, most likely.”
Connections at Godolphin said they had been leaning toward the Grade I Wood Memorial and also considering the Grade I Florida Derby, but both of those races will likely have leading Kentucky Derby contenders.
Alpha will work at his Palm Meadows Training Center base on Saturday or Sunday and fly to New Orleans on March 28, the Wednesday prior to the race, McLaughlin said.
“A two-hour flight from West Palm to New Orleans is almost as easy as vanning from Palm Meadows to Gulfstream,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a million dollars, a Grade II, and we like the timing of it, being five weeks to the Derby, or one day short of five weeks.”
McLaughlin added that he would have had a tougher time lining up one of his preferred riders for either of the Grade I races but for the Louisiana Derby he was able to secure Julien Leparoux. McLaughlin last raced at Fair Grounds when Seattle Fitz finished fourth in the 2004 Grade II New Orleans Handicap won by Peace Rules.
Mark Valeski Puts in La. Derby Breeze; Mr. Bowling May Go Too
Mark Valeski breezed an impressive five furlongs in :59.40 (1/11) under regular rider Rosie Napravnik, the fastest work at the distance by a full second.
The 3-year-old Proud Citizen colt accomplished the five-eighths through splits of :12.20, :24, :36 and : 47.80 before finishing the final eighth under no urging from Napravnik in :11.60. They galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.60.
“It was a little quicker than what we had designed to go,” trainer Larry Jones said. “I told her I wanted to work somewhere about a minute or a minute and one. She came back and said she thought he went a little bit quick, but she said he was really rolling. It was really good.
“When I looked at him going into the last race, I thought he was fat. I started second-guessing myself as we were leading him over. I was thinking, boy, he’s fat. But he really looks the way we want him right now. He’s really done great, and that race put him right where we want to be. We’re expecting a big performance.”
The move was Mark Valeski’s first official work since coming out on the losing end of a head-to-head stretch duel with El Padrino through the final furlong of the Grade II Risen Star.
“Someone called me the other day while I was driving to Oaklawn and said, ‘It’s been a long time since Mark Valeski worked, what’s the matter with him?’ Jones said. “Apparently nothing’s the matter with him. I don’t know; I don’t work my horses as often as a lot of people do. I’ve been galloping him, and I don’t let any grass grow under his feet when I gallop him.
“I don’t know how people got to thinking that horses need to work every week once you’ve got them fit and ready to go. I’ve been around him long enough to know what he needs. If there’s something wrong with Mark Valeski, then there must be something wrong with Believe You Can and Mr. Bowling, too, because they all worked today for the first time since they all raced on the same day.
"That’s the way we do it. We’ve got them fit, and we just have to hold them there. We’re trying to make them last because we want them to be around for a while.”
Mr. Bowling, the Grade III Lecomte Stakes winner in January, worked earlier in the morning, breezing five furlongs in 1:03.80 (10/11) under exercise rider Jen Brasser. He put down splits of :12.40, :24.20, :37.80 and :50.80.
“Mr. Bowling has always been a slow worker,” Larry Jones said. “He just doesn’t think it’s a lot of fun out there by himself. If the race doesn’t overfill to where he would be excluded for being the same owner (as Mark Valeski), right now we have intentions of running them both.”
Mr. Bowling, who finished last of 11 in the Risen Star, will work in company early next week.
“We’ll probably work him Monday with Believe You Can,” Jones said. “I’ll probably work Mark on Tuesday since the race is on Sunday. Normally I would work Mr. Bowling on Tuesday, but I want him to work in company, and I don’t want to make Mark go any faster. But the filly sets pretty good, and she’ll take the workmate well.”
Believe You Can, the Jan. 21 Silverbulletday Stakes winner preparing for the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks, worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 (2/11) this morning with Napravnik up.
“Rosie had Believe You Can right on the money,” Jones said. “We’re in good shape and we’re really happy with all three of them.”
DRF.com reported yesterday that Discreet Dancer is probable for the Louisiana Derby. He's worked twice since an extremely disappointing third-place finish in the Grade II Fountain of Youth. Javier Castellano is reportedly going to ride Discreet Dancer. He's breeezed twice since last racing, once on March 12, (four furlongs in :49.40 (22/40) at PMM) and again Monday, (five in 1:01.00 (2/27) at PMM).
Monday Workouts for the La. Derby
Z Dager, third in the Risen Star and second in the Lecomte before that, worked six furlongs in 1:13.00 (1/8) on Monday in company with stablemate Nehro, the latter one preparing for the New Orleans Handicap on Louisiana Derby day. The Steve Asmussen-trained pair worked on even terms through splits of :13.60, :25.80, :37.60, :49.60 and 1:01.80. They galloped out seven-eighths in 1:26.00.
Shared Property, third in the Lecomte and fifth in the Risen Star for trainer Tom Amoss, had Monday’s bullet five-furlong work in :59.60 (1/20), breezing, more than a second better than the next-fastest move at the distane.
Cigar Street to Work Friday
Cigar Street, fast winner of a high-quality two-turn maiden special weight on March 10 by 13 3/4 lengths, remains under consideration for the Louisiana Derby, according to trainer Steve Margolis. A final decision on his next start will wait until the weekend. The Street Sense colt, out of Arcadiana, a mare who is a half-sister to the legendary Cigar, will work Friday morning at about 6:30 a.m., shortly after a work by stablemate and Fair Grounds Oaks hopeful Inny Minnie. That Hard Spun filly finished third in both the Silverbulletday and last month’s Grade III Rachel Alexandra.
Final nominations for the Louisiana Derby closed Saturday with 79 signed up. Supplemental nominations are accepted up until entry day on Monday for $50,000. The full nomination list can be viewed here.
--Edited Fair Grounds release with additional content by Dick Downey