The 4-year-old son of Proud Citizen was handled brilliantly by jockey Rosie Napravnik, who found a four-wide gap after coming off the turn and finding no running room on the rail. She sent her mount for the opening and he angled out handily, then kicked into gear for a powerful late finish to win by one length. Final time for the 1 1/16-mile test was 1:44.82 on a fast track.
"I think everybody had some anxious moments there, including myself," Napravnik said of her ride on the 9-10 favorite in the field of seven. "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."
Mark Valeski raced fourth on the rail just behind the pacesetter, 2012 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Hero of Order who was first to the front and walked the dog through an opening quarter in :25.30 and a half in :49.64. Infrattini, who beat Mark Valeski last time out in the Jan. 19 Louisiana Handicap, was content to settle second while 2012 Travers (gr. I) dead-heat winner Golden Ticket was closely-placed in third on the outside.
Hero of Order kept the lead through three-quarters in 1:14.80, and headed into the stretch three abreast with Infrattini and Golden Ticket. At that point Mark Valeski was still stuck behind the frontrunning trio, but Napravnik swung him out past the sixteenth pole and he quickly accelerated when finally clear.
Golden Ticket had gained a short half-length lead under James Graham but lost the advantage as Mark Valeski closed with a rush. Also closing late was Cool Street, ridden by John Jacinto, who edged Golden Ticket for the place by a neck.
Mark Valeski returned $3.80, $2.60, and $2.10 while Cool Street brought $7.60 and $3.60. Golden Ticket paid $2.40 as Hero of Order, Infrattini, Macho Bull, and Raison d'Etat completed the order of finish.
"It is totally special and not only were we fortunate enough to breed the horse but fortunate enough, I think, to take him to stud when all of this is over and give other people a chance to get a part of him and a part of Proud Citizen," said Brereton Jones. "Proud Citizen is being such a fabulous sire and I think that everyone knows. Last year, as you know, we had Believe You Can here and won the (Fair Grounds) Oaks (gr. II) and then won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), and we have been blessed and we are very grateful."
Mark Valeski, bred in Kentucky out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Pocho's Dream Girl, now has four wins and three seconds from eight starts with earnings of $540,952. He was the runner-up in the 2012 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) and the Louisiana Derby before winning the Peter Pan Stakes and going to the sidelines with knee issue for the rest of 2012. The runner-up finish in the Louisiana Handicap was his first race of 2013.
According to trainer Larry Jones, the March 30 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) is next on the schedule for Mark Valeski.
"It's a big-dollar race and we are going to have a lot of competition with (grade I Donn Handicap winner) Graydar and (Donn runner-up) Bourbon Courage coming in," the trainer said. "So we are going to get a shot to really see what they got in their hand here."
Cool Street will also target the New Orleans Handicap.
"Who's going to beat him?" trainer Bernie Flint asked. "This horse is coming, not going. I thought this horse was going to be undefeated at this meet, I really did. This would've been his last race here, but I can't quit on him here now at this stage of the game These are great horses and he fits in with them. He showed his worth."