Home of the Louisiana Derby

Mark Valeski, Optimizer, Snuggs and Kisses, Sunbean Win Undercard Stakes


By Jim Mulvihill & Graham Ross

NEW ORLEANS (Saturday, February 23, 2013) – Overcoming a three-race case of “seconditis” at the Crescent City oval, Brereton Jones’s Mark Valeski broke out of it with a hard-earned one-length win in Saturday’s Grade II Mineshaft Handicap on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

“I think everybody had some anxious moments there, including myself,” said winning rider Rosie Napravnik. “We were really boxed in and I know I was sitting behind a couple of horses that were going to make a run and they just weren’t running fast enough, so I was finally able to tip to the outside and, I mean, he just took off and he was much the best today.”

Mark Valeski had won Belmont’s Grade II Peter Pan last summer, but was beaten three-quarters of a length in Fair Grounds’ Louisiana Handicap Jan. 19 in his first race since that New York score. Last year he was second by a nose in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes and then beaten a half-length in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, but had been training sharply for conditioner Larry Jones in recent weeks. The 4-year-old son of Proud Citizen was well placed early in the Mineshaft, encountered traffic problems in mid-stretch but proved best once he had clear running room.

Mark Valeski returned mutuels of $3.80, $2.60 and $2.10, accomplished the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:44.82 and increased his career earnings to $540,952 with his fourth career win in eight lifetime starts.

Winning trainer Jonesdiscussed Mark Valeski’s future campaign.

“We are going to plan to stay here for the (Grade II) New Orleans Handicap,”Jones said. “It’s a big-dollar race and we are going to have a lot of competition with Graydar and Bourbon Courage coming in. So we are going to get a shot to really see what they got in their hands here.”

Tenth Street Stables’ Cool Street finished second in the Mineshaft, paying $7.60 and $3.60 while a neck in front of Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Golden Ticket, who returned $2.40.

OPTIMIZER TAKES FAIR GROUNDS HANDICAP OVER SOFT GOING – Calumet Farms’ Optimizer won his second graded stakes event of the meet, edging clear to win Saturday’s Grade III, $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap by two lengths as the even-money favorite. Chuck and Ella Lou Hagaman’s Bim Bam closed for second in a field that scratched down to five after many trainers elected not to test the “soft” Stall-Wilson Turf Course.

Optimizer had won last month’s Grade III Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap over the same course as the first in a three-race graded stakes series that will end with the Grade II Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap on Louisiana Derby Day, March 30.

“His performance was as top-shelf as it could possibly have been,” said winning jockey Jon Court. “We were in and out trying to find the best part of the track and, when it came down to it, I did venture down on the inside and I got back to the outside; we were trying to find the firmest spot out there and it’s all pretty soft. But he handled it well enough to save some ground and make that move towards the lead down on the inside and that put us in the winner’s circle.”

Optimizer returned $4, $2.60 and $2.20, increased his career earnings to $626,942 and completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:56.06.

AJ Suited Racing Stables’ Two Months Rent ran an even third, followed by Willcox Inn and Cavalero.

SNUGGS AND KISSES UPSETS DAISY DEVINE IN $75,000 BAYOU HANDICAP —Barrett Bernard’s Snuggs and Kisses responded gamely when engaged by James Miller’s odds-on favorite Daisy Devine in Saturday’s listed $75,000 Bayou Handicap and proved best by a head following a thrilling stretch duel.

In a race taken off the turf and run on the main track at 1 1/16-miles, Daisy Devine was unable to sustain her grass greatness with a 126-pound impost but that should take nothing away from the gameness shown by the winner.

 “We weren’t going to run if the race had stayed on the grass,” said winning trainer Tom Amoss. “The whole idea was to run if it came off the grass.   Daisy Devine is a great filly.  Obviously, she is a great turf filly.   So, maybe a little vulnerable today on the dirt and we were able to take advantage of it.”

Ridden by Rosie Napravnik, Snuggs and Kisses returned mutuels of $11.20, $3.60 and $2.20, accomplished the distance in 1:45.38 after early splits of 24.30 and 48.48 and increased her career earnings to $288,020 with her 12th win in 32 career starts.

“At the three-eighths pole Daisy Devine was kind of creeping up on us and I said, ‘Oh boy, here she comes,’ but my filly really stuck it out and kept her nose in front the whole way,” said Napravnik.

Daisy Devine paid $2.40 and $2.10 and also went over the $1 million mark in lifetime earnings while finishing three-quarters of a length in front of Shadwell Farm’s Ausus, who returned $2.20 to show.

SUNBEAN STRIKES AGAIN IN $60,000 GENTILLY STAKES – Brittlyn Stable’s Sunbean made it three straight wins over the local oval with a 4 3/4-length tally in Saturday’s $60,000 Gentilly Stakes, a race restricted to sophomore accredited to Louisiana-breds that was scheduled for the turf but run over the main track at a mile and 70 yards.

After being allowed to settle early, the bay son of Brahms, who was scratched out of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes in favor of this event, came outside rivals when set down for the drive and drew off with mild urging by jockey Colby Hernandez.

Backed down to odds-on favoritism by the fans after winning the $105,000 Louisiana Futurity here on New Year’s Eve, the Al Stall Jr. trainee returned mutuels of $3.80, $2.80 and $2.10, toured the distance in 1:42.76 and increased his career earnings to $131,769 with his third win in four lifetime starts.

Autumn Hill Farms Racing Stable’s Hopeful Notion finished second, paying $5.60 and $4 while 5 3/4-lengths in front of Dan Lynch and Merrill Scherer’s Nubin Ridge, who returned $3.20.

Glen Warren and Andrew Leggio Jr.’s Skip the Pinot set early fractions of 23.64 and 46.76 before tiring.