The lightly-raced Mark Valeski earned a coveted spot in this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with the graded earnings accumulated in close seconds in the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby (both gr. II). The bay colt's work at Churchill Downs prior to the race didn't totally satisfy his connections—trainer Larry Jones and owner/breeder Brereton Jones (no relation)—however, and they elected to sidestep both the Run for the Roses and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). They were rewarded for their patience when Mark Valeski, making only the sixth start of his career, put himself in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) picture with a decisive victory May 12 in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II), a race that often proves a stepping stone to the third leg of the Triple Crown.
If Mark Valeski does make the Belmont line-up, we hope he fares better than his sire Proud Citizen, who in the course of the race suffered a condylar fracture to a foreleg that required the insertion of four screws. Unlike Mark Valeski, Proud Citizen had contested both previous legs of the Triple Crown. In the Derby, Proud Citizen started at odds of 23.3-1 despite having captured the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) on his final outing prior to the big day, but took second behind the front-running War Emblem, with Perfect Drift, Medaglia d'Oro , Request for Parole, Came Home, Harlan's Holiday and Johannesburg following them across the line. In the Preakness, Proud Citizen was forced five-wide on both turns, but closed well in the stretch to finished third, three-quarters of a length and the same behind War Emblem and locally-trained longshot Magic Weisner.
Given the extent of his injury, it would have probably benefited Proud Citizen's prospects as a stallion if he had retired at the end of his sophomore campaign when his classic exploits were fresh in the mind. Instead, rather ambitiously, he was returned to the fray as a 4-year-old. Unfortunately the boldness of his connections was rewarded by only a 7½-furlong allowance win at Churchill Downs, Proud Citizen's sole finish in the first three from seven outings that term.
Although his 4-year-old season had somewhat diminished his luster, Proud Citizen still had much to recommend him when, in 2004, he retired to Airdrie Farm to begin his stud career. A $425,000 sales yearling, Proud Citizen possessed a physique to match that tag. He also owned an attractive pedigree. Proud Citizen's sire Gone West was not only one of the most successful sires of the time, but also was beginning to carve a reputation as a sire of sires with Mr. Greeley, Elusive Quality, and Grand Slam all hot young sires. Proud Citizen was equally well-credentialed on the distaff side of the pedigree. His granddam Danseuse Etoile was a sister to La Prevoyante, U.S. champion 2-year-old filly and Horse of the Year in Canada. Danseuse Etoile was a daughter of Buckpasser, but even more attractive for stallion promotion, her dam Arctic Dancer was a sister to Northern Dancer. Proud Citizen was, thereby, from the immediate family of two other very prominent stallions in Danehill and Machiavellian.
Proud Citizen made a bright start to his stud career and was the third leading freshman sire of 2007, with 20 individual winners, three stakes winners, and two graded scorers. The following year, Proud Citizen narrowly missed heading the second-season sire table and was represented by a genuine star in champion 3-year-old filly Proud Spell. From there, Proud Citizen has followed a career arc that has become an almost inevitable trend for mid-priced sires, as their second, third, and fourth seasons generally see them far less strongly supported than in their first year at stud. Proud Citizen did get four stakes winners from his second crop, but no headliners, and he had only two stakes winners each in his third and fourth Northern Hemisphere crops.
Proud Citizen's current 3-year-olds are the produce of the mares sent to him after his successful freshman season, however, and with them he is rebounding in style. At the moment, the crop is headed by Mark Valeski and the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) victress Believe You Can (representing the same connections as Mark Valeski), but it also includes Went the Day Well, winner of the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III), a good fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and a very credible threat for the Preakness Stakes; three-time stakes winner Citizen Advocate; stakes winner Miz Ida; and four other black type-placed runners. Proud Citizen has another notable 2012 performer in the shuttle crop-sired Vamo a Galupiar, who was successful in the Santa Ana Stakes (gr. II) after scoring a group I race in his native Chile.
Mark Valeski is the first stakes winner from the five starters produced by his dam, Pocho's Dream Girl. By the Florida-based Mr. Prospector grandson Fortunate Prospect, Pocho's Dream Girl was a durable and talented performer who won seven of her 32 starts between the ages of 2 and 5, taking four stakes events and also running third in the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) and Pimlico Distaff Handicap (gr. III). Out of the Gallant Romeo mare True to Romeo, Pocho's Dream Girl was a half sister to the smart sprinter Wayne's Crane, a seven-time stakes winner on the Louisiana/Arkansas circuit and also twice runner-up in grade III contests. Another half sister to Pocho's Dream Girl, Truly Romantic, produced the stakes winners Fearless Leader and Prospect of Love to the cover of Suave Prospect, another son of Pocho's Dream Girl's sire, Fortunate Prospect. Mark Valeski's third dam Silver True won the Spinaway Stakes and produced two stakes winners, headed by Silver Buck, who took the Suburban and Whitney handicaps (both gr. I) and subsequently sired champion and Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes victor Silver Charm.
By Hail to Reason, Silver True was out of the C. V. Whitney foundation mare Silver Fog, a daughter of imported Epsom Derby winner Mahmoud. Dam of Silver Spoon—a filly who defeated colts in the Santa Anita Derby—and stakes winners Silver Bright and The Searcher, Silver Fog is ancestress of numerous top-class performers, including Kentucky Derby winner Gato Del Sol and his half-sister, French champion 2-year-old filly Tersa (dam of Rock Hard Ten); and group or grade I winners State Dinner, Coined Silver, Banquet Table, State Dinner, Germany, Unshaded, and Catinca.
Rated A++ by TrueNicks, Mark Valeski has Mr. Prospector 3x4 and the siblings Arctic Dancer/Northern Dancer 4x5. We can also note that Proud Citizen's broodmare sire Green Forest (by Shecky Greene) is out of a mare by The Axe II, who was not only another Whitney-bred (in the name of Greentree Stud) by Mahmoud, but was bred on similar lines to Silver Fog, who we have noted as Mark Valeski's fourth dam.
Guessing at the modern North American Thoroughbreds' ability to get the 1½ miles of the Belmont Stakes has become a hazardous business: Major dirt stakes conducted over that distance are now so rare the race is virtually a complete anomaly, and the pace at which it is run often makes it less a true test of stamina than the Derby. That said, Mark Valeski, by a Kentucky Derby runner-up out of a mare who was a stakes winner over nine furlongs, is probably at least as well equipped as most of his likely rivals to express his talent over a distance of ground.