NEW ORLEANS (Tuesday, March 20, 2012) – South Florida-based Alpha, easy winner of the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct on Feb. 4, is now considered probable for the $1 million Louisiana Derby (Gr. II) on April 1, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin confirmed today.

“The chances are very good that we’re coming that way,” McLaughlin said. “Simon Crisford [racing manager for Godolphin Racing] is the one who makes these decisions and we had talked yesterday, back and forth on e-mail, and we agreed that the Fair Grounds is a good spot. We will stay here in Florida and work this last time, make sure all is well for everybody going into the Florida Derby, and then we’ll enter at the Fair Grounds, most likely.”

The connections had been leaning toward Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial (Gr. I) on April 7 and also considered Gulfstream Park’s Florida Derby (Gr. I) on March 31 but both of those races will likely be stacked with several of the moment’s leading Kentucky Derby contenders.

Alpha will work at his Palm Meadows Training Center base on Saturday or Sunday and fly to New Orleans on March 28, the Wednesday prior to the race.

“A two-hour flight from West Palm to New Orleans is almost as easy as vanning from Palm Meadows to Gulfstream,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a million dollars, a Grade II, and we like the timing of it, being five weeks to the [Kentucky] Derby, or one day short of five weeks.”

McLaughlin added that he would have had a tougher time lining up one of his preferred riders for either of the Grade I races but for the Louisiana Derby he was able to secure the services of Julien Leparoux, the 2009 Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Jockey.

McLaughlin last raced at Fair Grounds when Seattle Fitz finished fourth in the 2004 New Orleans Handicap (Gr. II) won by Peace Rules.


MARK VALESKI WORKS :59 2/5 FOR LOUISIANA DERBY – Mark Valeski, runner-up in last month’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes, made a case for favoritism in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (Gr. II) on April 1, breezing an impressive five furlongs in :59 2/5 under regular rider Rosie Napravnik, the fastest of 11 works at the distance by a full second.

The 3-year-old Proud Citizen colt, owned by former Kentucky governor Brereton Jones, worked after the break at 8:30 a.m. and accomplished the five-eighths through splits of :12 1/5, :24, :36 and : 47 4/5 before finishing the final eighth under no urging from Napravnik in :11 3/5. They galloped out six furlongs in 1:13 3/5.

“It a little quicker than what we had designed to go,” trainer Larry Jones said. “I told her I wanted to work somewhere about a minute or a minute and one. She came back and said she thought he went a little bit quick but she said he was really rolling. It was really good.

“When I looked at him going into the last race I thought he was fat. I started second-guessing myself as we were leading him over. I was thinking, boy, he’s fat. But he really looks the way we want him right now. He’s really done great and that race put him right where we want to be. We’re expecting a big performance.”

The move was Mark Valeski’s first official work since coming out on the losing end of a head-to-head stretch duel with El Padrino through the final furlong of the Feb. 25 Risen Star.

“Someone called me the other day while I was driving to Oaklawn and said, ‘It’s been a long time since Mark Valeski worked, what’s the matter with him?’ Jones said. “Apparently nothing’s the matter with him. I don’t know; I don’t work my horses as often as a lot of people do. I’ve been galloping him and I don’t let any grass grow under his feet when I gallop him.

“I don’t know how people got to thinking that horses need to work every week once you’ve got them fit and ready to go. I’ve been around him long enough to know what he needs. If there’s something wrong with Mark Valeski, then there must be something wrong with Believe You Can and Mr. Bowling, too, because they all worked today for the first time since they all raced on the same day. That’s the way we do it. We’ve got them fit and we just have to hold them there. We’re trying to make them last because we want them to be around for a while.”

Mr. Bowling, the Grade III Lecomte Stakes winner in January, worked earlier in the morning, breezing five furlongs in 1:03 4/5 under exercise rider Jen Brasser. The Istan colt, also owned by Brereton Jones, worked through splits of :12 2/5, :24 1/5, :37 4/5 and :50 4/5.

“Mr. Bowling has always been a slow worker,” Larry Jones said. “He just doesn’t think it’s a lot of fun out there by himself. If the race doesn’t overfill to where he would be excluded for being the same owner (as Mark Valeski), right now we have intentions of running them both.”

Mr. Bowling, who finished last of 11 in the Risen Star, will work in company early next week.

“We’ll probably work him Monday with Believe You Can,” Jones said. “I’ll probably work Mark on Tuesday since the race is on Sunday. Normally I would work Mr. Bowling on Tuesday but I want him to work in company and I don’t want to make Mark go any faster. But the filly sets pretty good and she’ll take the workmate well.”

Believe You Can, the Jan. 21 Silverbulletday Stakes winner preparing for the March 31, $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (Gr. II), worked five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 this morning with Napravnik up. The Proud Citizen filly worked through splits of :12 1/5, :24 1/5, :37 4/5 and :48 4/5. She galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 4/5.

“Rosie had Believe You Can right on the money,” Jones said. “We’re in good shape and we’re really happy with all three of them.”


MONDAY LOUISIANA DERBY WORKS – Zayat Stables’ Z Dager, third in the Risen Star and second in the Lecomte before that, worked six furlongs in 1:13 on Monday in company with stablemate Nehro, last year’s Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby runner-up preparing for his 4-year-old stakes debut in the April 1 $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (Gr. II). The Steve Asmussen-trained pair worked on even terms through splits of :13 3/5, :25 4/5, :37 3/5, :49 3/5 and 1:01 4/5. They galloped out seven-eighths in 1:26…Jerry Namy’s Shared Property, third in the Lecomte and fifth in the Risen Star for trainer Tom Amoss, had Monday’s bullet five-furlong work in :59 3/5, breezing, more than a second better than the next-fastest move of 20 at the distance that morning.


CIGAR STREET TO WORK FRIDAY – Jake Ballis’s Cigar Street, scorching winner of a high-quality two-turn maiden special weight on March 10 by 13 ¾ lengths, remains under consideration for the Louisiana Derby, according to trainer Steve Margolis, though a final decision on his next start will wait until the weekend. The Street Sense colt, out of Arcadiana, a mare who is a half-sister to the legendary Cigar (both out of Solar Slew, by Seattle Slew), will work Friday morning at about 6:30 a.m., shortly after a work by stablemate and Fair Grounds Oaks hopeful Inny Minnie. That Hard Spun filly finished third in both the Silverbulletday and last month’s Grade III Rachel Alexandra.


LOUISIANA DERBY NOMS CLOSED SATURDAY – Final nominations for the Louisiana Derby closed Saturday with 79 nominations. Supplemental nominations are accepted up until entry day on Monday for $50,000. The full nomination list can be viewed on the “Stakes Nominations” page under the “Racing” section at FairGroundsRaceCourse.com.