Stuck down on the inside behind a tedious pace for much of the race was no place that race favorite, Mark Valeski, and rider, Rosie Napravnik wanted to be. It was shaping up to be the kind of trip that gets the best horse beat, especially when you consider that the second choice in yesterday’s Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap was sitting pretty in the garden spot, close to the pace and on the outside. No matter. Set down for the stretch run, Napravnik snatched up her talented mount near the three-sixteenths pole and steered him off the rail to a clear path four wide. Mark Valeski responded in turn with an explosive move that quickly carried him right on by the grade 1 winner, Golden Ticket, on his way to a stylish one length victory. The winning performance yesterday at Fair Grounds was impressive enough for me to name him ZATT’s Star of the Week.
While the winning margin for the Brereton Jones owned, and Larry Jones trained colt, may have only been one length over the late running Cool Street, Mark Valeski demonstrated both a willingness to overcome trouble, as well as, a big turn of foot that should suit him quite well as the races get only more important throughout the year. Making it all the more impressive was the fact that this was only his second start back after a long layoff following an injury after a win in last spring’s Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes. His winning time for the 1 1/16-mile was 1:44.82, which may also not look like much on paper, but when you consider the very slow fractions that he was bottled up behind, it makes that burst in the stretch look all the more impressive.
Leading Fair Grounds’ jockey, Rosie Napravnik admitted to being in a tight spot. “I think everybody had some anxious moments there, including myself. We were really boxed in and I know I was sitting behind a couple of horses that were going to make a run and they just weren’t running fast enough, so I was finally was able to tip to the outside and, I mean, he just took off and he was much the best today. He is such a class horse and just a nice horse to be around so I am thankful for Larry and Brereton for having me on today.”
The victory was Mark Valeski’s 4th in only 8 lifetime starts. After running 4th in his career debut to Union Rags back in 2011, the consistent son of Proud Citizen has not finished worse than second, with the last five coming in stakes races. He was coming in to yesterday’s Mineshaft off a sharp 2nd place try in the Louisiana Handicap to Infrattini, a horse he easily dispatched of yesterday. He had signaled his readiness for yesterday by being the talk of the backstretch recently in New Orleans. The stakes will only get bigger from here.
Larry Jones had some fun this morning after reflecting on his winner’s trip yesterday, “We decided this morning that we’re going to take ‘Mark’ to Europe,” Jones said. “They like to keep their horses covered up over there, so maybe that should be this horse’s new running style. As they saw in Europe, when Mark finally tipped to the outside, he really quickened.”
On a more serious note, Jones did go on to say that his star four-year-old would be pointed for the New Orleans Handicap next on March 30, a race in which he likely will meet a new pair of heavy hitters, in Graydar and Bourbon Courage, the 1-2 finishers in the recent Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. “That New Orleans Handicap is going to be quite a race,” added Jones.
It looked like Jones and Jones had something good last May when Mark Valeski won the Peter Pan after his connections prudently decided to pass on the Kentucky Derby. After yesterday, that feeling is even stronger. The New Orleans Handicap might be quite a race, but 2013 could be quite a year for the horse named after a hotel pool man.