“Derby Fever, catch it!” It’s not just a slogan used by the Louisville Visitors Bureau anymore. It seems connections of any good three-year-old become afflicted with it easier than catching the common cold. They do everything in their power to get their well thought of horse qualified for the Kentucky Derby, and if they accomplish that, you can bet your bottom dollar that Derby Fever will make the decision to run in the big race no decision at all. “Run him!” echoes in every barn from the G.W. Bridge to the San Gabriel Mountains. Knowing this, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I read the press release from the Churchill Downs media staff this morning… Brereton C. Jones’ homebred Mark Valeski has been withdrawn from consideration for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, opening the door for Bluegrass Hall LLC’s Optimizer to make the field, which is limited to 20 starters.
Trainer Larry Jones said that while Mark Valeski is in fine health, Monday’s five-furlong workout in 1:00.20 did not convince him the Louisiana Derby (Grade II) and Risen Star (Gr. II) runner-up was ready to face this year’s especially talented Kentucky Derby field.
“We really were looking for a ‘wow’ work and we don’t think Mark gave us that feeling that Believe You Can did,” Jones said, referring to his Kentucky Oaks candidate. “When you go in you’ve got be ready to tackle the bears. This is the Derby.
“He’s not coming in the way Hard Spun did. He’s not telling me like Eight Belles did that, ‘Boy, this is going to be the best race of my career.’ We feel like it could have been his best race so far, but we feel like he’s going to have even better races coming up.”
In other years, Jones said, Mark Valeski could have been competitive, but the 2012 group is just too talented.
“This is a very deep field. We feel like we belong with them, but there’s going to be a horse that runs 15th that’s a very good horse. It’s not like you just go out there and hope that if Union Rags gets a bad trip then we win. What with Gemologist, Bodemeister, Alpha, Take Charge Indy, somebody’s going to get a good trip other than just, say, Mark Valeski.”
Brereton Jones has talked openly of his desire to win a Derby but Larry Jones said they’re willing to wait until they believe they’ve got the right horse at the right moment.
“The Derby is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the horse,” Jones said. “Brereton and I feel like we’re in for the long haul and we will have other shots. I thought Hard Spun would be my once-in-a-lifetime, but then here came Eight Belles and Friesan Fire.”
“Brereton is not eaten up with ‘Derby Fever.’ He wants to win it, and that was one of the things he said with Proud Spell, that he wants to win the Oaks and the Derby. But we feel like we’ll win the Derby a different year.”
Mark Valeski will be pointed to the May 12 $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (GII) going 1 1/8 miles at Belmont Park, which could lead to a start in the third Triple Crown event, the June 9 $1 million Belmont Stakes (Gr. I) at 1 ½ miles.
“We’ve opted that we’re going to go to the Peter Pan next Saturday and give him a shot there,” Jones said. “He hasn’t won a prep – he’s been a neck and a nose from winning two major preps – but we think it’s in his best interest to go there.
“We want other things from Mark down the road. We do feel like he’s a Derby horse, but we don’t feel like he’s a Derby horse this Saturday. Two weeks from now we may have that Derby horse and he may still show up at the Belmont.
“It’s just not worth it right now. I think he’s going to get better.”
It seems that trainer, Larry Jones, and owner, Brereton Jones have taken a page out of William Shakespeare’s How to train Thoroughbreds 101, and have decided that discretion is the better part of valor … or maybe I should say the better part of Valeski.
I applaud the decision. Their horse was not going to win on Saturday and they knew it. Rather than throwing him under the proverbial bus, they’ve made the wise decision and decided to wait to fight another day. In the long run, the horse will be better for the decision.
Meanwhile, with Mark Valeski out, the 21st horse on the Derby earnings list will now move into the main draw. Let’s see, who is that again … Ahh, it’s none other than Optimizer for trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. I wonder if Lukas will decide that Optimizer is not quite up to the task and pass as well … Not!!!