Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nine Currently Known As Likely for Louisiana Derby

NEW ORLEANS (Wednesday, March 21, 2012) – With final nominations to the $1 million Louisiana Derby having closed last Saturday on St. Patrick’s Day, Fair Grounds stakes coordinator Scott Jones was able to check off the names of nine prominent 3-year-olds on Wednesday morning as likely for the 99th running of the centerpiece of the 140th Thoroughbred Racing Season.

The Grade II Louisiana Derby will be contested on Sunday, April 1, closing day program of Fair Grounds’ current season. Supplementary nominations of $50,000 will be accepted at entry time on Monday, March 26.

Godolphin Racing’s Alpha, coming off an impressive win in Aqueduct’s Grade III Withers Feb. 4, heads the list of those leaning toward a run in the Louisiana Derby – as always a significant stepping stone on the road to the Kentucky Derby May 5. The bay sophomore is a son of Bernardini, who won the 2006 Withers on his way to glory in that season’s Preakness, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup stakes.

Before his Withers score, Alpha captured Aqueduct’s $150,000 Count Fleet Stakes Jan.7 and was the runner-up to Chadds Ford Stable’s Union Rags in Belmont’s Grade I Champagne last fall. Union Rags was the top individual betting interest in the second Kentucky Derby Future Wager earlier this month.

Alpha, who is trained by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum’s longtime trainer Kiaran McGlaughlin, breezed five furlongs last Saturday at South Florida’s Palm Meadows training center in 1:01 flat.

Brereton Jones’ Mark Valeski, who finished second by a nose in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes as Fair Grounds’ designed prep for the Louisiana Derby on Feb. 25, will shoulder the favorite’s mantle among the locally-based Louisiana Derby contenders. Trained by Larry Jones, who saddled Fox Hill Farms and Vinery Stable’s Friesan Fire to win the 2009 Louisiana Derby as well as that year’s Risen Star and Grade III Lecomte Stakes, Mark Valeski breezed five furlongs in 59.40 at Fair Grounds Tuesday.

Zayat Stables’ Z Dager, who finished second in this year’s Lecomte and third in the Risen Star, is also being pointed for the upcoming Louisiana Derby. Conditioned by Steve Asmussen, Fair Grounds’ 10-time leading trainer, Z Dager breezed six furlongs Monday morning at Fair Grounds in 1:13 flat.

Among others likely at this time for the 2012 Louisiana Derby are Jim Tafel’s Afford, sixth in the Risen Star after a troubled trip; Mike Munna Racing Stable’s Comisky’s Humor, a winner of his last two by a combined total of 18 lengths; and E. Paul Robsham Stables’ Discreet Dancer, third behind Union Rags in Gulfstream Park’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes Feb. 26.

Others likely for the upcoming Louisiana Derby at this time are Donegal Racing’s Finnegans Wake, third behind Kendall Hansen’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Hansen in Aqueduct’s Grade III Gotham March 3 despite a tardy break; Gary and Mary West’s Fire Alarm, winner of his last start at Fair Grounds March 2; and Raut LLC’s Hero of Order, fourth in the Risen Star and fifth in the Lecomte.

Brereton Jones’ Mr. Bowling, another Larry Jones trainee who might possibly be pointed for the Louisiana Derby after winning Fair Grounds’ 2012 Lecomte Stakes Jan. 21, went five-eighths in 1:03.80 Tuesday morning here.

CRAWFISH BOIL FOR JOCKEY E. J. PERRODIN AND FAMILY HIGHLY ATTENDED – Tuesday’s annual Crawfish Boil at Fair Grounds, organized on behalf of longtime Fair Grounds jockey E. J. Perrodin and his family, attracted over well over 400 people and was deemed highly successful by Sandra Salmen of Fair Grounds’ horsemen’s relations.

Perrodin, a native Louisianan, announced his retirement from the saddle earlier this winter and was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer within days of that announcement.

“Although the total sum of contributions on behalf of E. J. and his family is still incomplete,” said Salmen, “there are several I’d like to thank at this time for their contributions to the Crawfish Boil.

“Certainly at the top of the list would be (Hall of Fame trainer) Jack Van Berg,” said Salmen. “Not only did he fly in from California to serve as the auctioneer for the event, he also collected and brought with him several of the most popular items that were auctioned off, like the framed photograph of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Zenyatta and her foal signed by her trainer John Shirreffs and her jockey Mike Smith, as well as a photo of his own Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Alysheba.

“Also, I’d like to thank the generosity of the people at Drago’s for contributing their portable trailer and serving up Drago’s famous charbroiled oysters at the Boil.

“Certainly, I’d also like to thank trainer Al Stall, Jr., who had the top bid of $1,000 backing winning jockey Marlon St. Julien in the Jockeys Crawfish Eating contest, and then donating his winnings of $3,900 back into the contributions for E. J. and his family.

“Finally,” concluded Salmen, “I’d like to thank Marcus Hersh of Daily Racing Form for his cover story about E. J. last Saturday as well as Bob Fortus of The Times-Picayune for his advance publicity. The power of the press was so important to the success of this event.”

COSTA RISING PURSE UPPED TO $90K – The purse for the April 1 Costa Rising Stakes (Louisiana-breds at 1 1/16 miles) on Louisiana Derby Day has been bumped up from $60,000 to $90,000, a change that gives Star Guitar an opportunity to become the all-time leading money-earning Louisiana-bred with a win. The additional purse money will come primarily from the race’s new sponsor, Southern Oaks Plantation, owned and operated by prominent Louisiana horse owner Bobby Asaro, along with additional funds committed by the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association. The race will now be known as the “Southern Oaks Plantation Costa Rising Stakes.”

“With Star Guitar on the cusp of history I thought it would be a nice thing for Louisiana-bred racing, which I’ve been a part of for 22 years,” Asaro said. “I thought it would draw more interest to Louisiana racing since it’ll be such a big day and the eyes of the racing world will be on us.”

Seven-year-old Star Guitar, the only five-time Louisiana Champions Day winner, has earned $1,635,862 while compiling a career record of 28-22-0-2. The top Louisiana-bred earner, Happy Ticket – a Grade I winner in the 2005 Ballerina at Saratoga who also came within a half-length of Hall of Fame mare Ashado in the 2005 Grade I Beldame and placed second against the world’s best females in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff – retired with earnings of $1,688,838.

The 60-percent winner’s share of a $90,000 purse, which comes to $54,000, would give Star Guitar career earnings of $1,689,862.

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