There was still a sliver visible in the eastern sky from February’s waning moon when the stakes horse-laden barn of the Larry & Cindy Jones Stable began its workday on Lundi Gras morning in New Orleans.
Here are some highlights – in chronological order – recorded at that Fair Grounds barn during training hours on the eve of Mardi Gras:
5:58 a.m. – Reigning Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, owned by Fox Hill Farms, becomes the first horse of the day to step on the track for an official workout, accompanied by trainer Larry Jones on his stable pony Pal. Havre de Grace, with exercise rider Jen Brasser in the irons, accomplishes her third timed work but first five-furlong breeze of the season, recording splits of 12 flat, 24.20, 36.20 and 48 flat prior to ticking off the five-eighths in 59.80 and galloping out the three-quarter mile distance in 1:14.60. The champion mare is moving closer to her first race of 2012 – most probably at Fair Grounds in the $100,000 New Orleans Ladies on March 17.
“She gets ready pretty quick,” said Jones some minutes later of Havre de Grace’s approaching seasonal bow. “She’s starting to stretch herself out on her own lately. She’s getting to the point where she wants to work now. That’s what I like to see.”
8:14 a.m. – Last outrider leaves the track as the first tractor appears for the morning’s renovation break.
8:33 a.m. – The first of Larry Jones’ two sophomore colts preparing for this Saturday’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Louisiana Derby Preview Day steps onto the track, accompanied by a work mate that will be uninvolved with the Risen Star.
“OK, here we go,” says the trainer astride his stable pony as he leads his team into the morning action.
Brereton Jones’s Mark Valeski, a winner of his last two starts, works in company with Brereton Jones’s maiden colt See Me Proud, and Mark Valeski, with Fair Grounds’ leading jockey Rosie Napravnik in the irons, breezes five furlongs in 1:00.20 while the maiden gets the distance in 1:00.40.
Moments later Brereton Jones’s Lecomte Stakes winner Mr. Bowling, with seven-time Fair Grounds riding champion Robby Albarado aboard, breaks off working in company with the former Kentucky governor’s maiden colt Very Lucky, and gets the five-eighths in 59.80 while the work mate does the distance in 1:00.40.
8:44 a.m. – After dismounting from Mark Valeski, jockey Napravnik gets a leg up on Brereton Jones’s $125,000 Silverbulletday stakes heroine Believe You Can, supposedly working by herself in preparation for Saturday’s Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes, the final designed prep for the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks March 31.
8:46 a.m. – Believe You Can steps on the track, accompanied by her trainer Jones on his stable pony.
8:49 a.m. –The Silverbulletday winner breaks off from Jones and goes five furlongs in 1:00.60 but is engaged by a horse from another barn during the move. That unplanned development turns out to be a blessing in disguise, giving Napravnik the chance to see if Believe You Can is able to be rated behind rivals.
“That was perfect,” says Napravnik to another rider as she pulls up Believe You Can. “I was so happy.”
Moments later, back at the barn, assistant trainer Cindy Jones speaks to the jockey before the rider leaves for another assignment. “Thank you so much,” the trainer’s wife says to Fair Grounds’ leading rider. “I’m excited.”
To the filly, taking her first turn cooling out around the shed row, Mrs. Jones says, “What a girl! What a girl!”
9:28 a.m. – Larry Jones comes up for air after an unusually busy morning to address some interested bystanders.
“Yeah, this morning we got tangled up in some other people’s workers,” Jones says. “Believe You Can – she wound up having a target to work at, so Rosie got to see a different side of her that she needed to see. Now she knows that the filly can be rated. As for Mark Valeski, Rosie really likes him. She has the confidence that she can take him anywhere she wants, and that this colt has more than one move in him.
“Robby (Albarado) said that (Mr. Bowling) is getting better every day,” Jones concluded. “He was very happy with the way things went for him this morning.”