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Louisiana Derby Runner-Up Mark Valeski Begins Comeback Trail at Fair Grounds

· Nonagenarian Trainer Saddles Winner at FG Thursday

· Churchill's Golden Rod Heroine Seaneen Girl Now at FG

· FG Chef Ray Derderian Named ACFNO Chef of the Year

NEW ORLEANS – 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 finished second 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."


Two races new to the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots stakes schedule this season now have names – the Battle of New Orleans and the Van Berg Stakes – thanks to a contest that garnered more than 300 entries from fans and employees. The Van Berg Stakes, named for both Marion H. Van Berg and Jack Van Berg, is a turf sprint for 3-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs to be run Jan. 26. The Battle of New Orleans, named for the final major battle of the War of 1812, is a turf sprint for 3-year-old fillies at 5 1/2 furlongs, to be run Feb. 2.

The Battle of New Orleans was submitted by Fair Grounds fan (and horse owner) Tony Gattelaro of Ontario, Canada. In a concurrent contest open only to Fair Grounds employees, the Van Berg Stakes was suggested by Paige Eckerman, a supervisor at the Kenner OTB Casino and a Fair Grounds team member for more than 25 years.

Gattelaro is unable to attend the inaugural running of the Battle of New Orleans but will receive a replica of the trophy and a $100 win bet on any horse in the field. Eckerman will enjoy lunch for four in the Clubhouse on the day of the inaugural Van Berg Stakes and will present the trophy, in addition to keeping a replica trophy and

placing a $100 win wager. She will also get paid time off on the day of the race.

The Battle of New Orleans, fought on January 8, 1815, was the last major battle of the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom. The war had officially ended two weeks prior with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, but the news had not yet reached the States. Led by General Andrew Jackson, with help from famed French pirate Jean Lafitte and his men, the Americans won the battle decisively, despite being severely outnumbered (the British suffered 291 fatalities to the Americans' 13). The victory propelled Jackson to the White House and the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans was celebrated as a major national holiday up until the Civil War. One of the earliest New Orleans racetracks – the Jackson Course, which operated in Chalmette in the 1820s – was named for General Jackson. Fair Grounds used to run the Old Hickory Stakes in Jackson's honor, from 1972 to 2009.

Both Van Bergs belong to the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame and the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Marion Van Berg (1896-1971) was the leading owner at Fair Grounds for 11 straight seasons, from 1959-1970, and leading trainer here four times. His son, Jack Van Berg, is the all-time leading trainer at Fair Grounds with an estimated 1,210 wins from 1957-1996 and 10 training titles.

The Van Berg name was mentioned multiple times in the public contest. Ronald Granier of Marrero, La., suggested the W. Hal Bishop & Marion H. Van Berg Stakes after two of the most dominant horsemen in Fair Grounds history, while both Bill Dowie of Boston and Frank Panucci of Loudonville, N.Y., offered up the Jack Van Berg Stakes. All three have been invited to assist in the trophy presentation for the inaugural Van Berg Stakes.

A total of 310 entries were received – 186 in the public contest and 124 from employees. Fans could enter on-track or electronically via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.

Employees submitted via entry boxes in break rooms at Fair Grounds and its 10 OTBs, as well as in the Human Resources office. Winners were selected by a committee of six Fair Grounds racing officials.

About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots

Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the nation's third-oldest racetrack, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN); it also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 10 off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana.

The 141st Thoroughbred Racing Season runs through March 31, 2013, highlighted by the milestone 100th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby for Kentucky Derby hopefuls on March 30, 2013. More information can be found online at

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