Mark Valeski was withdrawn from consideration for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby after trainer Larry Jones said it just wasn't worth it. The move opened the door for Optimizer to make the field.
Jones said that while Mark Valeski is in fine health, Monday’s five-furlong workout in 1:00.20 did not convince him the Grade II Louisiana Derby and Risen Star runner-up was up to the task.
“We really were looking for a ‘wow’ work, and we don’t think Mark gave us that feeling that Believe You Can did,” Jones said, referring to his Kentucky Oaks filly. Both horses were bred and are owned by Brereton Jones. “When you go in you’ve got be ready to tackle the bears. This is the Derby.
“He’s not coming in the way Hard Spun did. He’s not telling me like Eight Belles did that, ‘Boy, this is going to be the best race of my career.’ We feel like it could have been his best race so far, but we feel like he’s going to have even better races coming up.”
In other years, Jones said, Mark Valeski could have been competitive, but the 2012 group is just too talented.
“This is a very deep field. We feel like we belong with them, but there’s going to be a horse that runs 15th that’s a very good horse. It’s not like you just go out there and hope that if Union Rags gets a bad trip then we win. What with Gemologist, Bodemeister, Alpha, Take Charge Indy, somebody’s going to get a good trip other than just, say, Mark Valeski.”
Brereton Jones has talked openly of his desire to win a Derby, but Larry Jones said they’re willing to wait until they believe they’ve got the right horse at the right moment.
“The Derby is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the horse,” Jones said. “Brereton and I feel like we’re in for the long haul, and we will have other shots. I thought Hard Spun would be my once-in-a-lifetime, but then here came Eight Belles and Friesan Fire.”
“Brereton is not eaten up with ‘Derby Fever.’ He wants to win it, and that was one of the things he said with Proud Spell, that he wants to win the Oaks and the Derby. But we feel like we’ll win the Derby a different year.”
The trainer said Mark Valeski will be pointed to the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes on May 12 at Belmont Park. That could lead to a start in the Belmont Stakes.
“We’ve opted that we’re going to go to the Peter Pan next Saturday and give him a shot there,” Jones said. “He hasn’t won a prep – he’s been a neck and a nose from winning two major preps – but we think it’s in his best interest to go there.
“We want other things from Mark down the road. We do feel like he’s a Derby horse, but we don’t feel like he’s a Derby horse this Saturday. Two weeks from now, we may have that Derby horse and he may still show up at the Belmont.
“It’s just not worth it right now. I think he’s going to get better.”
--Edited Churchill Downs release