El Padrino Edges Mark Valeski in Risen Star
Photo: Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges, Jr.
El Padrino (left) outfinishes Mark Valeski to win the Risen Star.
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El Padrino  , the highly-touted 3-year-old from the barn of Todd Pletcher, proved he was worthy of the hype Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds when he outdueled Mark Valeski by a nose to win the $300,000 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO).

A son of Pulpit owned by Let's Go Stable, El Padrino tallied $180,000 of graded earnings with his victory and firmly planted himself as a prime Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contender. The chestnut colt had to work for it though as the 4-5 favorite in the field of 11. He needed the entire length of the long Fair Grounds stretch to get by a stingy Mark Valeski, who was making his stakes debut for trainer Larry Jones.
Mark Valeski’s rider, Rosie Napravnik, filed a claim of foul for stretch interference against El Padrino jockey Javier Castellano, but stewards made no change in the order of finish.
An impressive optional claiming winner Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park in his season debut, El Padrino won for the third time in five lifetime starts. He was bred in Kentucky by Emory Hamilton and is out of the Giant's Causeway   mare Enchanted Rock. The chestnut colt was a $210,000 purchase at the Keeneland September 2010 yearling sale and was consigned by Middlebrook Farm, agent.
El Padrino raced in fourth through the early stages as 79-1 shot Hero of Order   set the pace under James Graham. Mark Valeski, a Fair Grounds sprint winner in an optional claimer Jan. 13 and part of a coupled entry with Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) winner Mr. Bowling, was never far off the pacesetter, with Z Dager and El Padrino racing in stalking position. The fractions were :24.44, :48.72, and 1:13.15.
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Mark Valeski took the lead from Hero of Order when they reached the quarter pole, but El Padrino was just to his outside and those two began their long duel at the top of the lane. Mark Valeski came out on El Padrino in the early part of the stretch, causing the two colts to make contact. As they continued their run to the wire El Padrino drifted in slightly after strong urging from Castellano and finally poked his nose in front in the final strides.
The final time for 1 1/16 miles on the fast track was 1:42.66. Z Dager was 5 1/2 lengths back in third with Shane Sellers aboard. Hero of Order finished fourth.
“You know I thought it not a big deal (the brushing in the stretch)," Castellano said. "Before the wire, we were real tight. We never had big contact, though, and I think it was a good race and a very exciting race.”
El Padrino was third in the Nov. 26 Remsen (gr. II) at Aqueduct, beaten less than a length, in his final race of 2011. He earlier broke his maiden by 12 3/4 lengths at second asking Oct. 29 at Belmont. He trained for the Risen Star at Palm Meadows in South Florida, shipping in for Pletcher earlier in the week.
El Padrino has earned $266,100.
“We’re certainly happy enough with the race today and the Louisiana Derby (gr. II on April 1) will be one of our first options,” Pletcher said. “You hope it’s the kind of race that he’ll improve forward and become battle-tested a little bit; he’s getting a little bit more professional all the time and, hopefully, learning how to win.
"I think racing is going to help him. He’s got two good mile and a sixteenth races under his belt now so this year we’ve got a good foundation. But he’s a big, strong colt, carries plenty of condition, and he’s a big, laid-back horse on a daily basis so I think he’s the kind of horse that needs racing to get more and more fit. He’s not one to give you a huge effort every day and that’s good in the long run, but sometimes those kind of horses take a little longer to reach their peak.”
Sent off as the 4-5 choice, El Padrino paid $3.60, $2.80, and $2.10. The exacta (7-1) returned $12 and the trifecta (7-1-5) was $48.60.
Shared Property was fifth, followed by Afford, Tizanexpense, Ted's Folly, Optimizer, Adena's Chance, and Mr. Bowling.
Larry Jones said the Mark Valeski would also likely be pointed to the Louisiana Derby.

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