The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but if he wins the $1 million Louisiana Derby (gr. II) on April 1 at Fair Grounds, Triple Crown fans better get used to saying Mark Valeski.
A homebred of Brereton Jones and trained by Larry Jones, Mark Valeski is favored to win the 1 1/8-mile featured event on Sunday. Part of a coupled entry with stablemate Mr. Bowling, the son of Proud Citizen was pegged as the 2-1 favorite in a field of 14 sophomores making their final prep for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Mark Valeski, the human version, is an employee at a hotel in Bal Harbour, Fla. Brereton Jones became friendly with Valeski over the years and decided to name a horse after him. The equine version made a name for himself in the Feb. 25 Risen Star (gr. II), where he battled it out down the stretch with favored El Padrino before coming up a nose short in his stakes debut. Trainer Larry Jones and jockey Rosie Napravnik have said the bay colt has trained exceptionally well since that last start and are expecting a big effort in his second stakes try.
Mark Valeski has worked twice since the Risen Star, including a bullet five-furlong breeze in 1:00 3/5 on Tuesday, March 27. It was the fastest of 14 works at Fair Grounds that morning. Napravnik was aboard for the move.
“He worked fabulous this morning. It wasn’t as fast as it was last week but I don’t think it needed to be,” Napravnik said in a national teleconference. “He’s feeling great; he probably felt as good in his breeze this morning as he has since I sat on him for the first time.
“He’s done nothing but impress me every time I sit on the horse. He just exudes class and I think he’s the real deal. I just have tons of confidence going into the Louisiana Derby.
“I don’t think he’s distance limited. He’s only going to improve off (the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star). I don’t have any hesitation going a mile and an eighth with him.”
The other part of the Jones’ entry, Mr. Bowling, will be looking to rebound from an 11th-place effort in the Risen Star. He worked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 on March 26 at Fair Grounds—the best of 29 that day—signaling that he might be ready to run closer to the form he showed in the Jan. 21 Lecomte (gr. III) when he won by a head.
Also working March 27 in preparation for the race was Zayat Stables’ Z Dager. The son of Mizzen Mast went an easy four furlongs in :50 1/5 at Fair Grounds, where he is stabled for trainer Steve Asmussen. Z Dager finished second to Mr. Bowling in the Lecomte and a distant third in the Risen Star. Shane Sellers will have the mount once again on Sunday.
One colt that could be in for an improved performance is Donegal Racing’s Finnegans Wake, who ran a closing third in his stakes debut—the March 3 Gotham (gr. III) at Aqueduct—after a slow start. It was the first dirt start for the son of Powerscourt since two starts on the Gulfstream turf course. Corey Lanerie, aboard for the colt’s lone victory, will be reunited with him in the Louisiana Derby. Finnegans Wake, trained by Dale Romans, worked five furlongs in a quick :59 4/5 March 24 under Tammy Fox in his first try over the Fair Grounds dirt.
“I thought the work was perfect,” said Fox. “He did everything that Dale wanted me to do with him. He handled the track really good. He was looking around a little bit but that’s what he does. He finished really well and did it all on his own.”
The wild card in the race could be Jake Ballis’ Cigar Street, who broke his maiden by an eye-popping 13 3/4 lengths March 10 at Fair Grounds going 1 1/16 miles. Trainer Steve Margolis, on the fence as to whether he wanted to go in the Louisiana Derby, decided to take a shot after the Street Sense colt worked five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 March 25.