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Friday Notes: Mark Valeski Begins Comeback Trail

NEW ORLEANS (Friday, December 07, 2012) – Brereton Jones’ Mark Valeski, absent from active competition since winning the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park last May 12, accomplished a bullet three-furlong move in 36.20 Thursday morning at Fair Grounds in his first official work since then and was a perfect picture of health Friday morning when trainer Larry Jones proudly showed him off in his stall.

“I was really pleased with the way he went yesterday and he’s really looking great today,” Jones said. “He really seems to be responding well. I’ll probably give him another work in another six or seven days or so and then we’ll try to get him back on a regular schedule.”

Fair Grounds’ two-time defending jockey champion Rosie Napravnik was aboard for the move on the Proud Citizen colt who was runner-up by a half-length in the Grade II Louisiana Derby last season and second by a nose in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes before that.

Last spring’s Grade II Kentucky Oaks heroine Believe You Can, who won the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks five weeks earlier for the Jones owner-trainer tandem, had  her first work back last Monday, going the same three-eighths distance in 37.20.

Also on Thursday, Gillian Campbell et al.’s Summer Applause worked five furlongs in 59 flat for trainer Bret Calhoun. Summer Applause finishedsecond behind Believe You Can in last spring’s Fair Grounds Oaks but won the Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes before that.

Calhoun is pointing Summer Applause toward the $400,000 Houston Ladies at Sam Houston but hopes to tighten her up with a race at Fair Grounds prior to that Texas outing. Before Thursday’s move, Summer Applause had worked the same five-furlong distance in a minute flat on Nov. 29.

NONAGENARIAN TRAINER SADDLES WINNER AT FG THURSDAY – Veteran Fair Grounds trainer Joe Pennino, who will turn 93 years old next month, won the fifth race at the local oval Thursday with Miss Lillis, a 4-year-old filly owned by Pennino’s son Frank.

Pennino, who took out his trainer’s license in 1941 and talks of galloping Thoroughbreds through unpaved streets in New Orleans in his youth, has been a jockey, jockey’s agent, owner and trainer during his multifaceted career.

Earlier in the day, veteran New England and Florida-based trainer George Handy saddled a winner at Gulfstream at the age of 89.  Handy took out his own trainer’s license in 1946.

CHURCHILL’S GOLDEN ROD HEROINE SEANEEN GIRL NOW AT FG – Naveed Chowhan’s Seaneen Girl, who captured the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs Nov. 24 with Fair Grounds-based jockey Miguel Mena in the irons, arrived at Fair Grounds earlier this week after shipping in from the Twin Spires oval. The filly is being pointed for Fair Grounds’ $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes Jan. 19.

“We got held up in all that cold weather up there,” said her trainer Bernie Flint, a 72-year-old native New Orleanian who is also now in residence at Fair Grounds.

FG CHEF RAY DERDERIAN NAMED ACFNO CHEF OF THE YEAR – Fair Grounds executive chef Raymond Derderian, 54, now in his fifth year in that capacity at the Crescent City oval, has been elected the American Culinary Federation New Orleans’ (ACFNO) Chef of the Year and was honored in a banquet ceremony held at Fair Grounds earlier this week.

“I’m very grateful to have received this high honor because it’s one that is voted on by all the other chefs in New Orleans,” said “Chef Ray” Friday morning. “It’s always nice to be recognized by your peers.”

Derderian, born in Lynn, Massachusetts, adjacent to Suffolk Downs, has been in the food service business for 41 years after beginning his career as a pot scrubber.

“There’s only one way to go from being a pot scrubber and that is ‘up,’” said Derderian. “I first came to New Orleans when I was in the military and always swore I would come back here to live. Becoming executive chef at Fair Grounds has been a dream for me.”