Mark Valeski Grows Up in 2 Peter Pan
Story by: Ashley Herriman
After a pair of narrow defeats in Kentucky Derby prep races this spring at Fair Grounds Race Course, Mark Valeski earned his first graded stakes win Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park when he captured the 58th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes, the local springboard to the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 9.
Caught wide out of the gate, Mark Valeski settled well off the rail in midpack as longshot Right to Vote swiftly guided the field through opening fractions of 22.71 and 45.35. Swung four wide turning for home, Mark Valeski was put to a drive through the stretch, wresting the lead away from the pacesetter just past the eighth pole and going on to a 1 ¼-length victory. A determined Right to Vote held sway over Street Life, who closed from last to get third.
Mark Valeski’s final time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:48.31. Sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the field of 10, he returned $4.70.
“The horse felt great and did everything right,” said winning jockey Rosie Napravnik. “I was a little worried about all the ground we were losing, but at the same time with the fast pace I didn’t want to tuck in and get stuck behind, because I knew I was on the best horse. When I pressed the button, even with all the ground we lost, he was much the best and ran great today. It should set him up very nicely for his next race.”
Napravnik also rode Mark Valeski to tough-luck losses in the Grade 2 Risen Star (a nose to El Padrino) and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby (a half-length to Hero of Order). Originally pointed for the Kentucky Derby, the Proud Citizen colt was rerouted to the Peter Pan after failing to dazzle owner Brereton C. Jones and trainer Larry Jones in what was to be his final pre-Derby work at Churchill Downs on April 30.
“I kept thinking to myself ‘Well, if we win this thing by a bunch I’m going to wonder if I should have been at the Derby,’ but we made the right decision,” said Larry Jones. He [Mr. Brereton C. Jones] did, to be honest with you, because he doesn’t have the Derby fever that we’ve got to be there, he said ‘Do what’s right for my horse.’ And we both agreed after we watched him work at Churchill that we weren’t just blown away by his work. The filly [Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can] had blown us away the day before, and it was the right choice.”
Now, Mark Valeski has run his record to 3-2-0 from six starts and earned $430,952 and Larry Jones thinks his colt could be ready to take on the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes here next month.
“We’re going to Churchill with him, and then we’ll see how he comes out and whether we try to come back,” said Jones. “We’re sure not going to rule it out – we know where Belmont is.”
Good Morning Diva finished fourth, followed by Big Screen, The Lumber Guy, Hakama, Summer Front, Master Rick and Le Bernardin. Teeth of the Dog and Zetterholm were scratched.