When last seen, Mark Valeski looked like a million bucks while winning Belmont’s Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes last May. I’m happy to say that the now four-year-old son of Proud Citizen is looking good again, he worked five furlongs in 59.80 this morning at Fair Grounds, and is not far from a return to the races. I’m especially pleased to report this because not only is Mark Valeski a talented horse who could well be a force in the older male division, but his connections also have given plenty of reason to root for a successful return. The handy Peter Pan victory came for the Larry Jones trained bay colt in only his third lifetime try at more than six furlongs. His first two attempts at route racing resulted in a pair of tough luck, second place finishes at Fair Grounds in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes and million dollar Louisiana Derby. Surely, many connections would have thrown the lightly raced horse into the fire of the 20-horse Kentucky Derby scrum after such promising races in New Orleans. Larry Jones, and owner Brereton Jones did not do that. They brought their young star to Churchill Downs, saying they would only run him in the Derby if the trainer thought he had a real shot at winning. Larry Jones watched him train in Louisville, and decided no, the Derby was not best for his charge. Say what you will about the brave decision being in part a reaction to the tragedy of his Eight Belles four years earlier, but regardless, it was an admirable decision not to run Mark Valeski in the Derby.
Demonstrating that the decision was not based on anything being wrong with Mark Valeski, he won the Peter Pan impressively one week later. Soon after, his connections once again had the opportunity to show that in the case of Mark Valeski, the horse comes first.
The homebred was found to have a small chip, after Larry Jones, a consummate horseman, felt like the colt was not quite himself while galloping. Instead of trying to push through the minor injury, or rushing him back for a fall campaign, Jones and Jones immediately shut him down, had the chip cleaned out, and patiently waited for their star to come back as a completely healthy older horse. They may have missed races like the Kentucky Derby, Haskell, and Travers, but they did the right thing for the horse. It’s undecided when he will make his return, but Larry Jones says the $100,000 Louisiana Handicap in thirteen days is under some consideration for Mark Valeski. My guess is that he will only run if he is really ready, and when he does run, I for one, will be rooting to see the very best of a well cared for Mark Valeski.