Mark Valeski still on fence for Kentucky Derby
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Trainer Larry Jones is still debating whether to run Mark Valeski in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Even a solid workout by the colt on Monday didn't settle things. Named for a longtime friend of owner-breeder and former Kentucky governor Brereton C. Jones, Mark Valeski went five furlongs in 1:00.20, equaling the fastest of 28 drills at that distance at Churchill Downs.
Jones is playing it cautiously, waiting to see how the colt responds over the next two mornings.
"I'm not going to guarantee that we're in or out,'' he said. "Tomorrow will tell me more, and we'll know really on Wednesday morning when I get on him. Especially if he tries to buck me off, then he's in the (starting) gate.''
Mark Valeski was runner-up in his last two races; missing by a nose in the Risen Star Stakes, and by a half-length in the Louisiana Derby.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Derby winner, is closely monitoring the Mark Valeski developments. He trains Optimizer, who remains on the Derby bubble.
The top 20 entrants based on graded stakes earnings are guaranteed spots in the race. Optimizer is 21st on the list. A defection would put Optimizer, a modest 1 for 9 in his career, and Lukas in the Derby.
"I'd really like to see him get a chance to run,'' said Lukas, a four-time Derby winner. "One thing about him, he's a true mile-and-a-quarter horse.''
TWO FOR ASMUSSEN: Sabercat and Daddy Nose Best, the two Derby contenders for trainer Steve Asmussen, hit the track Monday for their final workouts.
Sabercat, third in the Arkansas Derby in his last race, went a half-mile in 48.40 seconds. Daddy Nose Best, the Sunland Park Derby winner, was clocked in 49.40 for the same distance.
Asmussen said Sabercat would have to step up his game.
"He needs to be a little faster,'' he said. "I like his experience but I think he's a horse that's going to have to run faster than he has to this point.''
As for Daddy Nose Best, Asmussen hopes to maintain the colt right where he is.
"He's put in some good works over the racetrack and we just want to keep that rhythm with him and keep him happy,'' he said.
Asmussen is winless with 10 previous Derby starters. Nehro (second last year) and Curlin (third in 2007) were his only runners to finish in the money.
Asmussen, who won his 6,000th race in November, trained three consecutive Horse of the Year champions in Curlin, a two-time honoree, and the filly Rachel Alexandra.
ON THE CLOCK: Creative Cause and Liaison also worked Monday.
Creative Cause, second by a nose in the Santa Anita Derby, appeared to have retained his edge with a swift half-mile in 47.80 seconds.
"It was perfect in my book,'' trainer Mike Harrington said. "I wanted him to show he was on his game and he did it fairly easily.''
Trainer Bob Baffert was encouraged by Liaison's prep of 1:00.80 for five furlongs.
"Today he looked more like a Derby horse than he has in the last couple of months,'' said Baffert who also sends out Bodemeister, one of the Derby favorites.
LOOKING FOR A REPEAT: The Animal Kingdom team, winners of last year's Derby, are back for another try with Went the Day Well.
Owner Barry Irwin, trainer Graham Motion and jockey John Velazquez are banking on an equipment change as the winning edge in the repeat bid. Went the Day Well, winner of two straight including the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, will wear blinkers for the first time in the Derby.
Blinkers restrict the field of vision, helping some horses concentrate better.
"When Johnny worked him last week at Keeneland, he really didn't want to go away from the other horse,'' Motion said. "Johnny and I talked about it and he gave me the confidence to try it. I really think it's the right move.''
While Went the Day Well has been training at Churchill Downs, Motion was in Maryland at the Fair Hill Training Center. He is slated to arrive in Louisville on Tuesday to supervise the colt's final preparations.
ON THE TUBE: The NBC Sports Group will provide 14 1/2 hours of Derby coverage this week.
Most of the action will be on the NBC Sports Network, formerly called Versus, including three one-hour "Derby Classics'' looking back at the wins by Barbaro, Mine That Bird and Animal Kingdom, and a live broadcast of the Kentucky Oaks on Friday.
The Derby will be the centerpiece of a three-hour telecast on Saturday.