Haskin's Derby Trail: Remember Mark Valeski?

The Kentucky Derby trail and short memories go hand in hand. Remember not too long ago when Mark Valeski was the next up-and-coming star, grabbing everyone’s attention with his gutsy nose defeat to El Padrino in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II)?

Well, following one throw-out loss in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), it’s now Mark who?

Even owner Brereton Jones is wondering if the Derby is the right spot for the son of Proud Citizen.

“I’m not 100 percent sure we’ll be in the Derby,” Jones said while waiting for his Kentucky Oaks filly Believe You Can to come out on the track for her work. “It all depends on how he works tomorrow. In all honesty, he might be better off in the Peter Pan. It’s a grade II and we haven’t won a graded stakes yet. And he won’t have to run against 19 other horses. But his (speed) numbers actually are not bad, and Larry (trainer Jones) thinks he really belongs. So in the final analysis, I’m going to leave it up to Larry. He’s a great horse trainer and a lot of owners make the mistake of telling their trainer what to do.”

A few minutes later, Mark Valeski came jogging up to the finish line with Jones aboard and stopped for a few seconds. The colt looked fantastic. He is extremely athletic looking with great muscle tone and definition. From a physical standpoint, he looked coiled and ready to unleash the real Mark Valeski.

With the 180-pound Jones in the saddle, he barreled around the racetrack at a strong clip and didn’t sound as if he were blowing at all.

“As of right this minute, I’m not saying that it’s 100% we’ll be in the Derby,” Jones said. That work tomorrow is gonna be important. He has to show me, ‘I’m better now than I’ve ever been.’ I just want to make sure he gets over this track really well.

“Brereton is trying to get cold feet. He just doesn’t want to do something that’s gonna look stupid and have everyone say he got Derby fever.”

The reason for all the uncertainty is Mark Valeski’s recent upset in the Louisiana Derby to the 109-1 shot Hero of Order.

“I beat Hero of Order the race before (the Black Gold) with Icon Ike and I can’t mention Icon Ike and Mark Valeski in the same sentence,” Jones said. “Ike is a good horse but he ain’t no Mark Valeski.”

Most people are aware that Mark Valeski threw a shoe before the Louisiana Derby, but not many realize that he got bumped at the start and stepped on, likely by his own stablemate Mr. Bowling, tearing off a chunk of his foot.

“My other horse apparently stepped on him,” Jones said. “He was the only horse who got close enough to him to do it. All I saw was that they bumped coming out of the gate. But he came back with the whole bulb ripped off of his foot. So he had to have gotten hit by a horse and Mr. Bowling is the only horse who got close enough to him. A 109-1 shot wins the race, I blow a shoe in the post parade, and get run over by my other horse. This is divine intervention. I had nothing to do with it. It came from above. I just wasn’t supposed to win that race.

“Everybody uses the turf to dirt angle for handicapping or synthetic to dirt. Well I’m gonna use the shoe off to shoe on angle. Every time I’ve lost a shoe and still run a good race I’ve never been beaten in the next race back. I’ve won every time. So that’s my angle.”

Jones also feels that, despite the recent defeat, Mark Valeski’s speed figures measure up well in this field.

“If you really look at this horse’s Ragozin numbers, he’s almost a mirror image of Hard Spun coming into the race,” he said. “If he throws in a Hard Spun kind of race we’ll be alright. He ran a “6 ½” in the sprint, and then came back and ran a “6” in the Risen Star in his first race going long. He came back and threw in a “5 ¼” with the shoe off and picking up six pounds. This horse has never taken a backward step. A lot of these have bounced after running a big number.”

As for Mark Valeski being a forgotten horse, Jones said, “That’s Good. I’m enjoying this part of it. I remember a horse called Giacomo. I was stabled next to that sonofagun and I didn’t know John Shirreffs, but we talked a lot and we got to know each other that week. I had to ask him what the name of his horse was. I had never hard of him. I didn’t remember it until after the race. He won, and like us, he didn’t win a prep that year.”

Jones never used to gallop Mark Valeski, but he got tired of his exercise riders taking the easy way out on the colt, so he began getting on him himself.

“I gallop him because he used to be lazy,” Jones said. “He didn’t want to gallop. He’d go out there and do as little as he could and just what you made him do and nothing more. The exercise boys loved him, because it made their work easy. I would tell them, “He’s not getting anything out of it; you’ve got to make him gallop. They’d say, ‘No that’s that way he wants to gallop.’ So, I’d tell them, ‘Well then you’re fired off of him. You can ride other horses and I’m gonna ride him. Y’all get mad because I start riding the good horses when were coming up on the big races. Well that’s because y’all want to do it your way’

“With all the speed in there he can be placed anywhere. He’ll sit wherever we put him, and Rosie (Napravnik) has such a knack of figuring out the pace real quick that she can put him in the spot he’s supposed to be in.

“I told Brereton, ‘When I go over, I’m not leading him over there and saying, ‘Man I hope I hit the board.’ When I leave this barn I’m thinking, ‘I’m gonna win this race.’”

Now all he has to do is work well tomorrow. If he does and runs in the Derby, you can have confidence knowing that Jones believes he can win it.

*Listen to more of Larry Jone's thoughts on Mark Valeski on Talkin' Horses with The Blood-Horse.


Leave a Comment:


Thanks for the great article Steve.

I love Larry Jones and I love Mark Valeski. I think he's got a great chance, but I think it's awesome his connections won't send him unless he is "better than ever".  I wish more owners/trainers felt the same!  

29 Apr 2012 7:35 PM
Pedigree Ann

The performance of Rousing Sermon in the Louisiana Derby (3rd, 1 1/2 lengths behind Mark Valeski) indicates just how poor this field was. Rousing Sermon had not been close to the winners in his stakes runs at 3 in California. Other horses who did not win their stakes attempts in California cleaned up in Arkansas. Neither of these circuits was up to par this year; I can't see any horse that trained in either place winning in Kentucky and doubt any will hit the board.

29 Apr 2012 7:38 PM
Uncle Smiley

MV... A sleeper with a firecracker in the irons...I shall leave it to you experts...

Across the board...

There is great potential...

Uncle Smiley

29 Apr 2012 8:41 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

If Larry Jones likes what he sees Monday then certainly Mark Valeski belongs. We know he's a gamer, and if you toss his last, his other numbers stack up well against most of these. It's a tough group but Valeski is definiely capable of an in the money finish. Didn't Bluegrass Cat lose a shoe in his final prep in 2006? So he was dismissed at high odds and came in second to Barbaro I believe. Normally you want to see a really strong performance in their final prep, and usually a second will suffice but the numbers aren't very strong in Valeski's final prep, but when they have an excuse like he did you can toss it and go by the other numbers and gameness. This would not be a case of Derby Fever as some entries are over the years, in my opinion.

29 Apr 2012 9:04 PM
Mike Monarchos

Great article Steve! Like I've posted before, Mark Valeski is one colt that won't have a problem carrying 126 pounds. After carrying Larry Jones around Churchill it will be nothing to carry Rosie. I'm looking forward to his work tomorrow. He barely lost to El Padrino, and El is one of my favorites. Although, I must admit I wasn't impressed with his 4 furlong work at Palm Meadows on a muddy track this morning in :53 and change. El Padrino is supposed to like an off track. Mark Valeski has the advantage over him by being at Churchill.

29 Apr 2012 9:42 PM

Steve, interesting piece, along with the companion BH Staff article quoting Larry Jones saying the colt seems to have recently realized he's a race horse.  I took special note of what Jones said about his exercise riders, and hope they do as well, if they want to ride the good horses :)

It sounds as if the owner and trainer are trying to make the right decision for their horse, which I appreciate as do most fans of the TC races and the KD in particular - I hate reading post-race reports that say half the field didn't belong and "only" got in on earnings, mainly because it diminishes the performance of the horses who finish well, but also because it diminishes the race itself.

It sounds like we had better pay attention to Mark Valeski if he goes.  Thanks for your valuable insight.  As always, top of my list.

29 Apr 2012 10:06 PM

Go Rosie! She WILL win a Derby, it's only a matter of time. Best female jockey, ever!

29 Apr 2012 10:57 PM
an ole railbird

my hats off to larry jones, for being a hands on trainer. it says a lot for a guy ,when he takes onthe task of galloping the horses that he trains.i always did a lot of it myself. because i could make a horse go like i wanted ,easier than i could explain it to someoneelse. but an ole drinking buddy & some sort of a mentoir ,who had been vory sucessful jockey& retired to be a sucessful trainer, gave me this advice." riddem all you want, but you will never become as good as you can be until you learn to quit second guessing your jockey. when you are a trainer you train, you train. when you are a jockey ,you ride races. damn few people can do both." i am quoteing new. mexicos own son ,mr. billy powell. he set a good example for a lot of us.  i willgo back to being "an ole railbird.

29 Apr 2012 11:45 PM

Nicely-penned story (as usual). This man did a heck of a job with Hard Spun. I have not looked closely at Valeski's races, so I can't comment on his chances. I would, however, like to comment on a topic that has been percollating in my mind ever since I watched the Bay Shore Stakes and really analyzed the performance of the winner.

According to all of the mainstream weather prognosticators, there is a 30% chance of isolated showers on Saturday. As a fan, I would prefer dry weather. As a handicapper, and as someone with the muscle memory of having picked Go For Gin in the 1994 Kentucky Derby, I am wishing for a sloppy track similar to the one that occurred 18 years ago when Gin upset the field wire-to-wire. Some will be surprised to know that Gin ran a sub 23 openning quarter that day when pressed by a long-forgotten competitor, but that's what it took to establish control. Peace Rules proved over and over that fast openning quarters are not an anathema to winning long distance races, just as Gin did 18 years ago this week. What matters is getting control and relaxing for the 2nd and 3rd quarters, if possible.

Much has been written about Trinniberg as a no-hoper in the Kentucky Derby and as a spoiler only. Even though I am a fan of Trinniberg since last season as a 2yo (born out of my love for his stablemate - "New York bred" Champion of the Year for 2011 - Giant Ryan), I concurred with this line of thinking, initially. After all, I am a handicapper who understands the game; going from 7 furlongs to a mile and a quarter with no two-turn experience is not a preferred method of winning trainers. But then I watched the Bayshore and I saw something I wasn't expecting to see: a horse who could actually outrun his expectations. Once I made that determination, I had to ask myself some serious questions about the circumstances he was likely to face in that race. Just because he might have the ability to run farther than some believe doesn't mean he's a contender in the Kentucky Derby. He needs a set of circumstances to line up - a perfect storm - to have any chance of pulling off this miracle.

It was clear after the Swale Stakes at GP that Trinni was a new horse this season. Prior to that race, my thinking was that taking the blinkers off that he had worn for all of his 2yo races was a sign that this colt had made great strides since October 2011. The results did not betray that line of thinking. And the Bayshore Stakes absolutely stamped Trinni as one of the top 3yo sprinters in North America, one of the top 3yos period.

When I compare his advancment to the advancement of other Kentucky Derby starters from 2yos to 3yos, he is actually one of the few who have improved markedly. The runners from the now-famous Breeder's Cup Juvenille - while confirming the form from that much-ballyhooed race - have not exactly leapt forward in their speed figures. They have maintained good form, but none has stamped themselves as can't-miss Derby winners through scintillating performances. Let's be honest - there has been only one scintillating performance, and that dude from Cali never raced as a 2yo, which - hello? - is a problem, a big problem if he's going to be the favorite or thereabouts. He's never faced anything remotely close to the experiences that await him on Derby Day, not to mention that he's a colt with a history of getting warm prior to his races. Curlin could only manage 3rd, and I reckon that Curlin was further along, experience-wise, at least.

So, Trinni has that in his favor; he's a kind of "now" horse. But because he's stretching out for the first time, he needs more help. He may be receiving that as we speak from the hype that has surrounded his entry. It is well understood, through the results of the Giacamo race and others just like it (Monarchos race), that anyone who challenges Trinni and forces the pace will have set themselves up - and anyone close to a "hot" pace - for an unpleasant result. Now, this is important, as a corralary to that: remember, nobody thinks Trinni can make the distance, regardless of what happens pace-wise and that includes all the other trainers, especially those who stand to lose the most by challenging his position as the pacesetter. Therefore, it is likely that Trinniberg will be left to his own devices in this race, believe it or not. Let me say that again: It is a distinct probability that Trinniberg will be allowed to make his own race after the first quarter. At this point in my thinking, I am getting excited because I can see the potential for a perfect storm developing. The final circumstance that is required, in my mind, is a sloppy track.

While many will look at Trinniberg's flop in the Breeder's Cup Juvenille Sprint as reason to believe he will not handle the off going, that is simply not the case as far as I'm concerned. Just prior to that race, Trinniberg posted a bullet 48 and 1 workout (best of 22) in the full-on slop at Chruchill. His trainer made the following remark that day last October (from a bloodhorse article): "That’s why we had no problem working him today, because we know he loves it,” Parbhoo said of Trinniberg, who finished second in the Sept. 5 Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) on a sloppy track. “I thought he breezed well this morning.” They "know" he loves it.

It's well known that a sloppy track is almost always speed-favoring because it is almost always sealed to protect the integrity of the course. If rain comes to Churchill this saturday, and its slated to rain early and/or late, I expect the track to be sealed, no question.

Go For Gin's fractions that day 18 years ago  - though fast early - were pedestrian through the middle and late stages, he sailed through a 47 and change half, a 1-11 and change 3-quaters, and he glided home, never challenged. While Trinniberg has never raced beyond 7 furlongs, he has a strong, classy foundation at two. His dosage is under 4.0. But that last race really won me over as it relates to his current form. If one watched that last race, one will see many things that are rather startling. He ran his final sixteenth in just under 12 seconds and it was faster than his penultimate sixteenth which was a shade over 12; he was actually pulling away again at the wire from his nearest competitor, who was under a strong drive and heavy pressure. As a handicapper, whenever I see a horse who runs his last sixteenth fasther than the previous (or quarter fractions, respectively) - I take a serious note. That can be a powerful indicator of readieness and "top" form. When one watches the head-on of the stretch drive, one will see a big stout colt who is not shortenning stride at all, nor coming off his correct lead, while his competitors are being flogged for every ounce of energy they have to give, to no avail. He toyed with the field.

Meanwhile, Trinniberg won the race under a mild hand ride, completely unchallenged. His gallop out was tremendous and I'm not just saying that, he was flying. When they turned him around to bring him back he quickly broke into a gallop and he wouldn't have blown out a match. This is what made me ponder the circumstances that would be needed to give him a punter's chance to shock the world in 2012. I believe I have laid those out. In my opinion, the two colts with the best last race prior to this derby are Bodemeister (no surprise) and Trinniberg (mild surprise, at least, I would imagine). One will be 3-1 or so and likely favorited. The other will be 50-1, and allowed to make his own race. Hmmmmm......  

30 Apr 2012 3:36 AM
Don from PA/DE

Thanks again SH, nice scoop, I agree that LJ is a true horseperson, experiencing he and his wife at DP for years,being stabled next to Giacomo before the past KD and being a mystery is quite funny and interesting to me, typical I guess..if LJ runs MV he

does a chance of hitting the board, especially with Rosie, but yet again,so does anyone, I wish them well....but do feel "Gem" will be sparkling in winners circle

30 Apr 2012 5:54 AM

I'm finding it hard to get enthused about a trainer who uses a 180-lb. exercise rider when he wants a fast work.

Rosie the best ever? I think not. I watched three videos just to look at her ride, and her horse came out of the gate sideways in all three. Her home track is a small pond. My vote would go to Chantal Sutherland or Emma-Jayne Wilson.

30 Apr 2012 10:46 AM

I really like MV, and I like him even more with Rosie in the irons. It would be history if her and MV could take home the roses. Roses for Rosie-she deserves the opportunity to earn them. She has worked extremely hard in her career...she is a fighter with guts, a big heart, with the drive, passion, and intelligence to get her and MV home. Her, MV, and Larry J. are my feel good story and underdog pick. I got a soft spot for them underdogs.

I can't recall a derby in the last 10years that had more than 3 top contenders. This year we have several big horses competing--so exciting. Some of my favorites are Hansen because of his guts, beauty, and spunk, Gemologist--he is just so talented and brilliant just like his daddy. Creative Cause: very intelligent horse with personality. I have a good time watching this horse in his works, I like to watch his ears and can tell he is very pleased to do his job and toy with his riders. I'll have another: this guy is gutsy and gives it his all every time. Liaison: this horse has had it kind of ruff, that one race where he about went down has seemed to cramp his style a bit but I still think he is a good horse he just needs to get over what happened, but he wont forget it and we will see if he can over come that in the derby. Its either going to make him a man or break him. Union Rags: I like the horse, but I am not a fan of his trainer, but I will cheer on the horse.

I like all of the horses, good luck to all and a safe trip for all the jockeys and horses.

30 Apr 2012 11:31 AM

My case for Trinniberg was way too long, huh? :) I respect your perrogative. I thought Trinniberg deserves something positive said about his chances, I believe there are many in the field less-deserving than he. He's coming off two graded-stakes victories (with ease). The DRF's "KD Top Twenty" is being merciless in their snarky attack, and totally beyond the pale in my book. The connections do not deserve that kind of disrespect. They trained last years' New York Bred Champion. I hope you will write something appropriate about his entry. I truly believe that if the perfect storm develops, he's 10-1 to wire the field, maybe less. This colt does not resemble his 2yo self, who was far from being a disgrace.

30 Apr 2012 6:15 PM

Interesting comment from happyticket, not a fan of Union Rags trainer.  I've rarely heard anything negative about Michael Matz; in fact I can't recall ever hearing any negative comments, quite the opposite.

30 Apr 2012 6:26 PM

I love Larry Jones too, in my top five favorite trainers group.  I get a kick out of how he rides his horses, yep, by the time the jock gets up the colts have it easy!  I've been saying all along that Valeski could sneak right in there to show in the money.  I hope the human Mark Valeski gets to go to Churchill to see his namesake run.

30 Apr 2012 8:05 PM
Uncle Smiley

Happy Ticket,

My seniment follows the first paragraph of your last post.  Rosie N, on Mark Valeski, what a wonderful win, should the racing gods so allow.

She is brave, experienced in difficulty,  and tough.

PS.. If this sport has a hero, Michael Matz is one of them

Uncle Smiley

30 Apr 2012 9:35 PM
Kelly Wietsma

Cassandra.Says...WOW...What planet have you been living on?  Rosie is ranked 9th on national leader board. Wilson 115 and Sutherland 132. Rosie winning at 20% clip and in the money 56%! Wilson 10% and 40% and Sutherland 11% and 36%.  Get a grip!!! NO COMPARISON!!!  

01 May 2012 9:01 AM
Uncle Smiley

So let it be written, so let it be done. Mark Valeski is withdrawn by his conditioner.

Sad to see that last year's pilot of Pants on Fire, is as of now without a mount next Saturday in Kentucky.

Next year, Rosie, next year.

Unless, nah, this is horse racing... Miracles never happen.

Uncle Smiley

01 May 2012 9:00 PM


I call 'em the way I SEE 'em. Tell me a horse winning a graded stakes under a masterful ride by Rosie and I'll take a look at it; something in the same class as  Chantal's rides on the Dude or Emma-Jayne winning the Pan American on Rahy's Attorney.

Rosie is a hustling rider at bush league tracks and has earned a try at the tracks Chantal and Emma-Jayne ride on. That's all.

And let me assure you that ANY woman other than an owner has to work like a dog on the backstretch to even get a chance.

Were you around at the beginning when they had to sue to get a licence?

Some great cinematic moments along the way, like a tough little blonde saying to a reporter "Are you trying to say that some skinny teenage boy who's spent the day in a sweatbox is stronger than ME?"

02 May 2012 4:16 AM
Uncle Smiley

Believe You Can.

It is one step at a time for Rosie Napravnik.

But each step is a dance!

LJ took the right move, downgrading Mark Valeski for BYC

And put Rosie in the record books where she belongs!


04 May 2012 8:24 PM

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