After a sensational stretch-long duel, El Padrino was able to nose out Mark Velaski to win the G2 $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.
El Padrino closed as the 2-1 heavy favorite to win the race while Mark Velaski—coupled with Mr. Bowling—was the second betting choice with 4-1 odds.
Mark Velaski was actually an big underdog on paper in this race. If he would not have been an entry with Mr. Bowling—winner of the Lecomte Stakes—his payoffs would have been much higher.
If you read my preview for this race, you would not be surprised at the result of this race. Mark Velaski was my pick as the possible horse to upset El Padrino—and it almost happened.
As expected, at the start of the race Hero of Order was sent to the lead by jockey James Graham and set the slow pace with fractions of :24.44 and :48.72 for the first half-mile.
Rosie Napravnik settled Mark Valeski nicely, right behind Hero of Order in stalking mode about 1.5 lengths behind.
Meanwhile Javier Castellano with El Padrino had to overcome a slide-bumping at the beginning of the first turn. Then on the backstretch he settled in fourth place on the clear outside of Z Dager—the third betting choice at 5-1.
Both jockeys bided their time until the far turn when they started to slowly make their moves to the front.
It was then that Castellano was all out asking El Padrino during the turn, while Napravnik placed Mark Velaski willingly right at the side of Hero of Order.
It took a while for El Padrino to get going and make his turn-of-foot as he looked to be floating in third place around the final turn.
But once the entered the homestretch El Padrino found his stride and started inching closer to Mark Velaski as Napravnik went to work with the whip on the left side.
Mark Velaski drifted slightly to his outside just as El Padrino edged closer to him, and they brushed as they got together.
The duel was on full force with a furlong to go, noses apart, no horse giving in. Both battled in tight quarters, and with 100 meters to go it was El Padrino who then brushed against Mark Velaski.
Then, as they battled to the wire, El Padrino went ahead by a nose as they hit the photo-finish mark with a final time of 1:42.96 for the one-and-one-sixteenth mile.
Just after they crossed the finish line, Rosie Napravnik claimed there was a foul by Javier Castellano's ride, El Padrino, during the stretch.
After a couple of minutes of steward's review, no harm was found, and El Padrino was declared the official winner.
The reality is that this was a good old, hard-fought duel between two great jockeys aboard two very good horses in tight quarters coming down the stretch for home.
For a moment it felt like reliving the 1989 Preakness Stakes stretch duel between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. It was simply just that good, but with less at stake.
As for the Lecomte Stakes top finishers that were in a rematch here: Z Dager finished a well beaten 5.5 lengths behind in third place just ahead of Hero of Order; Shared Property rounded out the top five and Mr. Bowling finished in a disappointing last place.
For El Padrino this race was a vindication of his improvement during the year and showed that he can grind out a win when the moment calls for it.
He remains among the top contenders in the three-year-old division and a solid Kentucky Derby candidate.
Mark Valeski showed he is a constantly improving horse and is now also officially on the Kentucky Derby trail. This is a horse that will not fly under the radar anymore.
Rosie Napravnik's ride was impeccable aboard Mark Valeski, and I am sure trainer Larry Jones will look for her on his next race.
Which race would that be for both horses? Quite possibly it will be the final Derby prep race at Fair Grounds.
The $1 million G2 Louisiana Derby is on April 1st. That is five weeks away, and in the next few days we will learn if we will witness the rematch between this two horses.
Hopefully both horse come out well from the race and can give us another sequel to this great showdown.
Risen Star Stakes | Grade 2 | Purse : $300,000 | Fair Grounds | Three-year-olds| 1-1/16-mile
Also ran: Hero of Order, Shared Property, Afford, Tizanexpense, Ted’s Folly, Optmizer, Adena’s Chance and Mr. Bowling.
Fractional Times: :24.44, :48.72, 1:13.15, 1:36.88
Final Time: 1:42.96