When trainer Larry Jones brought owner Brereton Jones' homebred Mark Valeski to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for the Jan. 19 Louisiana Handicap, it was the first start in almost eight months for the Proud Citizen runner, who had not raced since winning the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park.
After a hard-fought second-place finish by three-quarters of a length to the streaking Infrattini, Jones and Jones have their sights set on a rematch in the $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III). Their 4-year-old colt has been training forwardly leading up to the 1 1/16-mile test.
"He came out of that race good, you could tell he was extremely tired that evening but he wound up cleaning up his feed and it didn't set him back any; we're expecting him to move forward off that start," Larry Jones said.
Mark Valeski and Infrattini (who won the Louisiana Handicap after running a track record mile in 1:33.31 at Churchill Downs) are the top contenders in a field of eight drawn for the Mineshaft. It is one of six stakes worth a total of $1,035,000 on Fair Grounds' Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford. The Mineshaft is carded as race eight of 13 with an approximate post time of 3:55 p.m. CST.
Mark Valeski loves Fair Grounds, where he was runner-up in the 2012 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) and Louisiana Derby (gr. II). He went to the sidelines after skipping the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and winning the Peter Pan; Jones said it was a knee issue that kept him from more races in 2012.
"Every now and then a horse has to have some time off and it was his turn," the trainer explained. "He
needed a little bit of repair work done on a knee issue and had to get it cleaned up a little bit, but he's come back so good I almost think the good Lord was looking out for us, giving us a minor issue that was enough to make us stop on him but not enough to compromise his career."
Mark Valeski worked a bullet five furlongs in :59 flat under jockey Rosie Napravnik Feb. 17. Napravnik, Fair Grounds' leading rider, will be in the saddle Feb. 23 when the colt breaks from post 2 under a 119-pound impost.
"She came back and said 'I think that's the best breeze he's ever had,' and I told her he's been galloping better than he ever has," Jones said. "We're extremely excited; he's filled out a lot and grown up a lot since last year and we're expecting his 4-year-old year to be a really good year. He's doing things better than he did at three."
Infrattini, a 5-year-old son of Include trained by Paul McGee, is another who has improved since his sophomore season. The Z Thoroughbreds homebred hasn't lost a race since last July and claimed his fourth straight victory, each earned over a different track, when closing to collar Mark Valeski inside the furlong grounds in the Louisiana Handicap. His best finish as a 3-year-old was a runner-up effort, a length behind Scotus, in the 2011 Matt Win Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs.
"He was a good 3-year-old and a better 4-year-old and now he is even better as a 5-year-old, but I think some of that is his breeding; Include says he might be a good older horse going long," McGee said.
Infrattini turned in his final pre-race move Feb. 9, breezing five furlongs in 1:01 flat, third-best of 59 at the distance on the day. Highweighted at 121 pounds, he'll leave post 7 under jockey Miguel Mena.
Tenth Street Stables' local contender Cool Street also has a four-race win streak going on.; the 4-year-old Street Cry runner has not been beaten since breaking his maiden for trainer Bernie Flint Dec. 20 at Fair Grounds. He held on determinedly for his most recent score, an allowance victory by a neck going 1 1/16 miles Feb. 2.
Among other familiar faces in the Mineshaft are 2012 Louisiana Derby upset winner Hero of Order, who stunned the field at odds of 109-1; and 2012 Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner Golden Ticket, who dead-heated with Alpha for the first time in Saratoga race's modern history.
Hero of Order, a 4-year-old son of Sharp Humor who races for Raut LLC and trainer Gennadi Dorochenko, comes off a runner-up finish by half a length to Bind going six furlongs at Fair Grounds Feb. 2. He is winless since the Louisiana Derby with his best finish coming when second to Hansen in the Iowa Derby (gr. III) last June.
Golden Ticket, a 4-year-old by Speightstown, won a Jan. 26 Gulfstream Park allowance event at the Mineshaft distance by 5 1/4 lengths over O'Prado Again in his season debut. It was his first victory since the Travers for Magic City Thoroughbreds and trainer Ken McPeek. Golden Ticket is second in the weights with a 120-pound impost under James Graham from post 5.
Completing the field are Bluegrass Hall's allowance winner Raison d'Etat (eighth in the Louisiana Handicap); the Millard R. Seldin Revocable Trust's Unbridled Stakes victor Golden Yank, who has not won since that Sept. 2011 score; and Raut's Macho Bull, who ran sixth in the Louisiana Handicap and has already started twice with a win and a second in allowance company since then.
$150,000 Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III, Race 8, approximate post 3:55 p.m. CST) 4YOs & Up, 1 1/16 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Raison d'Etat (KY), J.K. Court, 112, D W Lukas
2. Mark Valeski (KY), R. Napravnik, 119, J L Jones
3. Golden Yank (KY), C. McMahon, 112, G A Thomas
4. Cool Street (KY), J. Jacinto, 115, B S Flint
5. Golden Ticket (KY), J. Graham, 120, K G McPeek
6. Hero of Order (KY), S. Brigmohan, 112, G Dorochenko