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El Padrino Noses Out Mark Valeski in Risen Star Thriller

It looks like a Louisiana Derby rematch on April 1 could be in order for Let’s Go Stable’s El Padrino and Brereton Jones’s Mark Valeski, who finished first and second a nose apart in Saturday’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Following a furious stretch duel – with mutual bumping and a jockey’s objection involved – the Risen Star result was allowed to stand, and post-race comments by trainer Todd Pletcher of the winner and Larry Jones of the runner-up indicate both could be back for a second “Battle of New Orleans” five weeks and one day after the Risen Star.

As for the jockeys involved in the objection – Rosie Napravnik, who lodged it as the pilot of Mark Valeski, and Javier Castellano, who survived it as El Padrino’s passenger – they seemed to concur that the brushing incident had little to do with the outcome.

“I was riding head-to-head with her and hitting my horse right-handed and she was hitting left-handed,” said Castellano, and after looking at the head-on of the stretch run, Napravnik admitted, “Many times it feels worse than it looks and that was the case today.”

As the odd-on choice of the Risen Star fans, El Padrino paid $3.60, $2.80 and $2.20, got timed for 1 1/16-mile run in 1:42.96 – a stakes record for this distance – and increased his career earnings to $266,100.

Mark Valeski, going two turns for the first time in his career, showed the heart of a lion in defeat, returning $3.20 and $2.40 while easily second best, 5 1/2-lengths in front of Zayat Stables’ Z Dager, who paid $3.20.

Raut LLC’s Hero of Order, a 79-1 long shot, made the pace with fractions of 22.42 and 46.31 before weakening to fifth at the wire.

In a press box speaker phone interview from South Florida, Pletcher seemed to think the long stretch run at Fair Grounds is ideal for El Padrino’s style and, while not committing to a specific engagement, thought the Louisiana Derby would be a prime option.

“We’re certainly happy enough with the race today that that will be one of our first options,” he said. “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.”

Meanwhile, Larry Jones, when asked about returning for the Louisiana Derby, said, “We can see no reason not to.”