Wednesday Notes: Cigar Street Takes Big Step Up in Louisiana Derby

By Graham Ross, Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS (Wednesday, March 28, 2012) – Less than three weeks ago, Jake Ballis and Rashard Lewis’s Cigar Street had never won a race, and less than a week ago, trainer Steve Margolis was still undecided about entering his colt in Sunday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby, but following a five-furlong breeze last Sunday, accomplished in 1:01.20, the New York City-born Margolis pronounced his quickly-developing colt accomplished enough to contest the showcase event of the New Orleans racing season.

Fair Grounds morning-line odds maker Mike Diliberto agreed, installing Cigar Street as the 7-2 second choice for Sunday’s the Grade II local Derby – always a significant step stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby less than five weeks later.

“Good,” whispered Diliberto at Monday’s Derby Draw when Cigar Street’s name was drawn to leave from the #5 post stall in the starting gate. “The two favorites both got good draws. Now, I don’t have to change the odds that I think they should be.”

Brereton Jones’s Mark Valeski, who Diliberto considers the stronger half of the Jones-owned entry grouped as a single wagering interest, drew the #8 post with entry mate Mr. Bowling slated to leave from the #7 spot. Together, that Larry Jones-trained duo was pegged for 2-1 Louisiana Derby favoritism.

“I guess when (Todd Pletcher-trained) Discreet Dancer didn’t show up, my horse moved up to second,” said Margolis Wednesday morning, speaking of a well-regarded Louisiana Derby prospect whose connections declined participation in Sunday’s main event. “Otherwise, I guess I would have been the third choice.

“This is exciting,” Margolis added. “To have Cigar Street jump up and run big in a maiden race (a 13 3/4-length victory at Fair Grounds March 10) and now go into the big race as the second choice is a big thrill for me. Also, we’ve got Inny Minnie going in the Fair Grounds Oaks on Saturday (also owned by Ballis and Lewis as the $500,000 Oaks’ projected 4-1 third choice) and (Richard, Bertram and Elaine Klein’s) Cash Refund in the ($150,000) Duncan Kenner (as the 5-2 second choice) on Sunday.

“They are all doing great and I’m looking forward to this weekend,” concluded Margolis. “This has been a good meet for us. Now, I hope we can end it up on a good note.”

MARK VALESKI, MR. BOWLING, BELIEVE YOU CAN IN FINE FETTLE WEDNESAY – The Brereton Jones-owned coupling of Mark Valeski and Mr. Bowling, bracketed as a single wagering interest and the 2-1 morning-line choice for Sunday’s Grade II Louisiana Derby, were both doing fine Wednesday morning, trainer Larry Jones reported, as was Brereton Jones’s filly Believe You Can, pegged the as Saturday’s Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks’ 3-1 second choice.

“Mark Valeski just walked this morning (after breezing five-eighths Tuesday in 1:00.60),” Jones said, “and Mr. Bowling and Believe You Can went to the track again this morning and galloped (after working Monday). We’re in good shape here and looking forward to this weekend.”

The Hopkinsville, Kentucky-born trainer is also looking forward to this weekend’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four Tournament in New Orleans, which will include both the Bluegrass State’s University of Kentucky and University of Louisville.

Which team does Jones prefer?

“I don’t really care who wins as long as one of them does,” said Jones. “That’s a little like asking me if I favor Mark Valeski over Mr. Bowling in the Louisiana Derby.  I like ’em both. I don’t care who wins. It’s a win-win situation for me.”

STAR GUITAR FINE-TUNED FOR SUNDAY’S QUEST AS LOUISIANA’S TOP EARNER – Brittlyn Stable’s Star Guitar will have the opportunity to become the all-time leading money-earning Louisiana-bred with a win in Sunday’s $90,000 Southern Oaks Plantation Costa Rising Stakes, and trainer Al Stall Jr. reported all was well with his Pelican State-bred star Wednesday morning.

“We’re right on schedule with him,” Stall said of Star Guitar. “I’m looking forward to seeing him running, and I’m grateful to people like Bobby Asaro for contributing to the purse. We’re lucky to have guys like that around here who really love the sport.”

NATES MINESHAFT BREEZES FOR SUNDAY’S BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS HANDICAP – Windy Hill Farm’s Nates Mineshaft, with an upset win in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Mineshaft Handicap Feb. 25 that resulted in a $29.60 win payoff, breezed a half-mile Wednesday morning at Fair Grounds in 47.40 for trainer Austin Smith.

Jockey Jesse Campbell, aboard for Nates Mineshaft’s tally in the designed prep for the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap, will be in the irons once again for Sunday’s nine-furlong test.

ARM FORCE OUT OF LOUISIANA DERBY – Casner Racing’s Arm Force has elected not to travel to New Orleans for Sunday’s Louisiana Derby, according to Fair Grounds Racing Secretary Jason Boulet. Trainer Eoin Harty told Racing Office staff he is considering other, presumable softer, races for the Tiznow colt.

FLORIDAHORSES TO ARRIVE MIDDAY THURSDAY – Weekend stakes entrants traveling by plane from Florida are expected to arrive on the grounds Thursday at about 1 p.m., according to stall superintendent Mario Torres.