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Mark Valeski Favored in Mineshaft Handicap; Optimizer Returns for Fair Groups 'Cap

NEW ORLEANS (Monday, February 18, 2013) – Brereton C. Jones’ homebred Mark Valeski has been installed as the 2-1 favorite for Saturday’s 28th running of the $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap (GIII) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles. The Proud Citizen colt will be making the second start of his 4-year-old year after a second in last month’s Louisiana Handicap behind Z Thoroughbreds LLC’s Infrattini, who was made the 5-2 second choice.


The Mineshaft is one of four graded stakes, and six stakes overall, on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford. The 13-race card, topped by the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (GII) for 3-year-old Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby hopefuls, starts early with a first post of 12:30 p.m. CDT. The Mineshaft is Race 8 at 3:55 p.m. and will kick off a $100,000-guaranteed Pick 4 that also includes the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies, the Risen Star and a 10-horse maiden special weight for 3-year-old fillies. 


Infrattini earned his fourth win in a row, and first stakes victory, while taking the Louisiana ’Cap for trainer Paul McGee. However, despite finishing three-quarters of a length behind that day, Mark Valeski got the nod for morning line favoritism, based in part on his impressive bullet five-furlong work in :59 on Sunday for trainer Larry Jones. Mark Valeski, breaking from post two, will be ridden by leading jockey Rosie Narpavnik, carrying 119 pounds, while Infrattini, leaving from post seven, gets Miguel Mena back in the saddle at 121 pounds.


The locally based top choices will likely keep an eye out for South Florida shipper Golden Ticket, owned by Magic City Thoroughbred Partners and trained by Ken McPeek, who won last year’s Grade I Travers in a dead heat and is 7-2 on the morning line. Now a 4-year-old, the Speightstown colt kicked off his season last month with an easy 5 1/4-length win in a Gulfstream Park allowance. James Graham, second in the Fair Grounds standings entering Monday’s races, will be aboard Golden Ticket for the first time, tacking high weight of 120.


Raut LLC’s Hero of Order, seeking his first win since an epic 109-1 upset in last year’s $1 million Louisiana Derby for trainer Gennadi Dorochenko, will break from post five under Shaun Bridgmohan and has been assigned 112 pounds. The 4-year-old Sharp Humor colt is projected at 12-1 by oddsmaker Mike Diliberto.


The eight-horse field also includes, from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, weight, morning line odds): Raison d’Etat (Jon Court, Wayne Lukas, 112, 20-1); Golden Yank, cross-entered in the Fair Grounds Handicap on turf (C.J. McMahon, Gary Thomas, 112, 12-1); Cool Street (John Jacinto, Bernie Flint, 115, 6-1); and Macho Bull, also cross-entered in the Fair Grounds Handicap (Iram Diego, Dorochenko, 112, 12-1).


The Mineshaft serves as a steppingstone to the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (GII) on Louisiana Derby Day, March 30.


BRADLEY WINNER OPTIMIZER BACK IN FAIR GROUNDS HANDICAP – Calumet Farm’s Optimizer, the decisive winner of last month’s $125,0000 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap (GIII) for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, ships back from Oaklawn Park as the 120-pound high weight and 3-1 morning line favorite for Saturday’s 26th running of the $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap (GIII) at 1 1/8 miles over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course.


The Fair Grounds ’Cap serves as a prep for the $400,000 Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap (GII) on Louisiana Derby Day, March 30.


A 4-year-old English Channel colt, Optimizer took to grass racing after starting in all three Triple Crown events last year and went on to win the Grade III Kent at Delaware Park. He tried the Breeders’ Cup Turf, finishing 11th, then managed a good third in the Hollywood Turf Cup (GII) in December. In the Col. Bradley, Optimizer controlled the pace before drawing clear to win by 3 ½ lengths under Jon Court, who has the mount again Saturday. Optimizer will break from post seven.


Second choice on the morning line at 4-1 went to Lael Stable & All In Stable’s Willcox Inn, a Grade II winner on turf as a 3-year-old. Now a 5-year-old, the Mike Stidham trainee comes into the Fair Grounds ’Cap off a troubled third in the John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston last month. Jose Lezcano will be aboard for the first time, breaking from post three and tacking 118 pounds.


A pair of South Florida invaders warrant serious consideration. AJ Suited Racing Stable’s Two Months Rent, winner of the Hawthorne Derby, makes his 4-year-old debut for trainer Jimmy Toner and gets the services of leading rider Rosie Napravnik, tacking 114 and breaking from post six. Ken & Sarah Ramsey’s Hypermakes his second start back in the United States after a summer trek to England that included off-the-board finishes at Ascot and Newbury. Before that sojourn, though, the 6-year-old by Victory Gallop had reeled off five in a row on turf in Florida and New York. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, in his first appearance at Fair Grounds since coming out of retirement last month, has the mount and will carry 114 from post nine for trainer Chad Brown.


Also expected to attract attention from bettors are Adele B. Dilschneider’s Unlatch, fourth in the Bradley, installed at 6-1 on the line for trainer Al Stall Jr. and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., carrying 114 and breaking from post four; Chuck & Ella Lou Hagaman’s Bim Bam, third in the Bradley, projected at 10-1 for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Richard Eramia, assigned 115 and breaking from post five; and Chester J. Miller & Patrick J. Dupuy’s Strike Impact, winner of December’s Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap, 12-1 for trainer Pat Dupuy and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan and starting from post two under a 115-pound impost.


The rest of the 11-horse field also includes, from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, weight, morning line odds): Major Gain (James Graham, Louie Roussel III, 112, 20-1); Quality Control (Leandro Goncalves, Tom Amoss, 112, 15-1); Cavalero (Mark Guidry, Wayne Catalano, 113, 12-1); and Macho Bull, cross-entered in the Mineshaft Handicap on the main track (Iram Diego, Gennadi Dorochenko, 111, 12-1).