Larry Jones has just about had enough of Todd Pletcher. And if Pocho’s Dream Girl had any idea what Pletcher has been doing to her sons, she would be incensed as well.
Two years ago, Jones thought he had a big chance to win the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) with Pocho Dream Girl’s son Mark Valeski. But Pletcher’s El Padrino came charging down the stretch to nip him by a nose after a grueling duel for an eighth of a mile.
Mark Valeski suffered an injury after winning the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park, and when he came back the following year, he looked to have the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) won, only to get passed in the final furlong by the Pletcher-trained Graydar.
In this year’s Risen Star Stakes, Mark Valeski’s baby brother, Albano, had just put away his closest pursuers, opening a clear lead at the eighth pole, when here came Intense Holiday to nail him by a nose right on the wire. Intense Holiday is trained by, who else, Todd Pletcher.
Now, it is revenge time for Jones, owner Brereton Jones, and, yes. Pocho’s Dream Girl, as Albano gets another crack at Pletcher and Intense Holiday in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) March 29.
If there is one thing Jones doesn’t have to worry about it is Albano cracking under the pressure of battle. There is no doubt that Pocho’s Dream Girl has instilled in her offspring a competitive spirit and a willingness bang heads if necessary.
Albano has shown he can go to the front, as he did in the Risen Star, or lay off the pace, as he did in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III), demonstrating the same adaptability and versatility as his brother. With the speedy In Trouble in the race, if Albano does not get the lead, it wouldn’t disturb Jones one bit.
“We know this family is competitive, and they don’t lay down when things don’t go their way,” Jones said. “This colt is the same way. You can try to set it up in their training to teach them not to give up if things don’t go according to plan. I’ve never had a fighter tougher than Proud Spell (also owned and bred by Jones). She would battle you tooth and nail and never got passed in her whole career. Mr. Jones teaches them when they’re young not to be intimidated. They get out there and know how to compete. There are little things you can do as a trainer, but most of it is the horse.”
As for stretching out in distance, Jones said, “Distance should not be an issue. He’s built to get a route of ground even more than Mark Valeski is, so we’ll be just fine. The track has played fair, and he has a natural turn of foot. He will adapt to whatever situation is thrown at him. He’ll run on or off the pace. We’re looking forward to Saturday and I feel we’re sitting on a good one.”
Albano once again will have the services of veteran jockey Kerwin Clark, who has ridden the son of Istan in his last four starts.
“He’s part of the team,” Jones said. “When a jockey doesn’t do anything wrong you don’t go looking around for someone else. He’s good at what he does. I learned of him in the early ‘90s when I was at Hawthorne. He was name rider there who I couldn’t get to ride my horses. His agent is a good friend of mine and we got him to ride this year and he started winning on everything we put him on. So, it’s been working. We’ve had success and we’re both enjoying it.”
Jones said Albano, like several of Jones’ horses, was named for someone in connection to the Seaview Hotel in Florida, where Jones and his wife have stayed for the past 25 years. Mark Valeski was named after a Seaview employee, and so is Albano.
“They’ve had a lot of success doing that, so anyone at the Seaview Hotel is apt to have a horse named after them.”
Jones, of course, is looking ahead to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), a race in which he nearly won in 2007, finishing second with Hard Spun, and in 2008, finishing second with the ill-fated Eight Belles.
“It’s the top echelon of anything we could hope to have,” Jones said. “Do I have to win to fulfill a dream? I’ve been so fortunate in my career, I don’t feel I have to win the Kentucky Derby, but if we do, you’re gonna see one ‘ol Kentucky hardboot awfully happy that night.”
But thoughts of roses will have to wait. He’s got to get past Pletcher first.