Heavy favorites dot stakes races at Fair Grounds

In a photo provided by Fair Grounds Race Course, Mark Valeski, with jockey Rosie Napravnik, pulls away near the wire to win the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap horse race Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Fair Grounds Race Course/Hodges Photography, Lynn Roberts)
In a photo provided by Fair Grounds Race Course, Mark Valeski, with jockey Rosie Napravnik, pulls away near the wire to win the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap horse race Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Fair Grounds Race Course/Hodges Photography, Lynn Roberts)

NEW ORLEANS — If the pre-post odds are to be believed, today’s running of two $150,000 stakes races — the 11⁄16 -mile New Orleans Ladies Stakes for fillies or mares 4-years old and up, and the six-furlong sprint Duncan F. Kenner Stakes for 3-year-olds and up — are pretty much over before the gates even open.

That’s because both contests feature overwhelming favorites who are expected, at least on paper, to cruise to the wire.

In the Ladies Stakes, Brereton C. Jones’ Believe You Can carries odds of 1-5 as of Friday, while in the Kenner contest, Maggi Moss’ Delaunay goes off at 3-5, making every other entrant almost seem like an afterthought.

“We’re all running for second, it looks like,” said trainer Wayne Catalano, whose Imposing Grace, at 9-2, is the next horse down in odds in the Ladies.

Catalano made the statement half-jokingly, almost as if he was at the same time slightly irritated and bemused by Believe You Can’s overwhelming favorite status. But Catalano certainly isn’t conceding the race.

He said Imposing Grace has been running well, and the trainer and jockey James Graham have a game plan they think can work to post an upset. Catalano said Grace will probably start out running near the back, then assess the situation and go from there.

And if there’s any jockey who can maneuver an upset, it’s Graham, who just a few weeks ago led 135-1 longshot Ive Struck a Nerve to a massive upset victory in the Risen Star Stakes by running a masterful race. Graham currently sits in second place in the jockey standings for the track’s 2012-13 meet.

As a result, Catalano said, “You never know what will happen.”

Believe You Can is trained by Larry Jones and will be piloted by Fair Grounds meet-leading jockey Rosie Napravnik. And even if Believe fails to deliver, Jones has two other entrants in the Ladies Stakes as well — Young and Lovely at 8-1 and Totally Tucker at 20-1.

Jones couldn’t be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, in the Kenner Stakes, five mounts will be going up against overwhelming favorite Delaunay, who is trained by meet leader Tom Amoss and will be jockeyed by Napravnik. One of those supposed also-rans is Hero of Order, who is owned and trained by Gennadi Dorochenko.

Dorochenko said Hero of Order, who will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, feels loose and ready to tackle today’s challenge. He also pointed to Evelyn Benoit’s Gantry, who is trained by Ron Faucheux and posted odds of 7-2 as of Friday, as a possible upset-turner as well.

“Everybody wants to win the race,” Dorochenko said before echoing Catalano’s sentiments. “But I’ll tell you one thing — nobody knows. That’s why you race. We’ll see. I just know that my horse will run good.”

For his part, Amoss, trainer of odds-on favorite Delaunay, is taking his mount’s status as massive favorite in stride. He said he’s pleased that Delaunay drew the outside post to start, a situation that will allow his tactically-sound colt to view the field and let Amoss and Napravnik adjust the game plan from there.

Delaunay enters today’s six-furlong Kenner Stakes with wins in the Thanksgiving Handicap and the Gaudin Stake already under his saddle. Amoss said he and Delaunay’s team are definitely aiming for a sweep of the Fair Grounds’ 2012-13 meet sprints, which he hopes will give the horse national-level exposure.

As for the 3-5 odds, Amoss brushes aside the notion of heavy expectations.

“There’s always pressure,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years. It just comes with the racing.”