Updated on 05/03/2012 12:48PM

Kentucky Derby: Mark Valeski withdrawn from consideration; Optimizer in

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mark Valeski will not run in the Kentucky Derby, his connections announced Tuesday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – D. Wayne Lukas has trained four winners of the Kentucky Derby, and three of his former assistants have horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Now they can have a reunion in the saddling paddock on Saturday afternoon, because on Tuesday morning, Lukas got the word he so desperately craved for days, that enough horses above Optimizer on the graded earnings list had come out to allow him in.

Mark Valeski, whose participation was in doubt for a couple of days, on Tuesday morning was officially removed from consideration for the Derby by trainer Larry Jones and owner Brereton C. Jones, who are not related but who both apparently were immune from Derby Fever. Optimizer had been 21st on the graded earnings list, so he moved up a spot and would be in the 20-horse Derby field barring any last-second surprises prior to entry time Wednesday.

“I felt comfortable last week, but as the days shortened up, I was getting worried,” Lukas said Tuesday afternoon.

Also officially withdrawn from Derby consideration on Tuesday was Louisiana Derby winner Hero of Order, who would have needed to be supplemented to the race for $200,000.

Those developments prompted trainer Kelly Breen to put My Adonis on a van Tuesday morning from Monmouth Park bound for Churchill Downs, in the hope My Adonis would get into the field. With Mark Valeski out, My Adonis moved up to 21st on the graded earnings list. This year, as many as four-also eligibles were to be allowed at entry time Wednesday, in addition to the 20 in the field.

For My Adonis to run, assuming he is the first also-eligible, there would have to be one defection from the field before scratch time Friday morning. Breen said he and owner George Hall were willing to roll the dice and take a chance My Adonis would get in.

“If he was number 22, we weren’t going to come,” Breen said by telephone from Monmouth Park. “But once we found out Mark Valeski was out and we were now 21, we put him on the van.”

All Derby horses had to be on the grounds by Wednesday. El Padrino, Gemologist, and Take Charge Indy arrived Tuesday from Florida, and Daddy Long Legs traveled from Ireland. Hansen, who trains at the nearby Trackside training center, was scheduled to van to Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning.

Larry Jones had indicated for several days that he was unsure over whether to run Mark Valeski, who worked Monday morning. On Tuesday, Jones said he had been looking for what he called a “wow work,” but thought Mark Valeski didn’t quite measure up to the way his Derby runner-ups Hard Spun and Eight Belles had trained prior to their races.

“We do feel like he’s a Derby horse, but we don’t feel like he’s a Derby horse this Saturday,” Jones said. “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.”
Jones said that Mark Valeski would be sent to Belmont Park for the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes on May 12 as a prep for a possible start in the June 9 Belmont.

Mark Valeski was second in the Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby in his last two starts.

The quality of this Derby field also seemed to impact the decision.

“This is a very deep field,” Jones said. “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.”

Lukas had been keeping his eye on Mark Valeski. On Monday, immediately after Mark Valeski’s work, the radio that the track clockers use crackled with, “Wayne Lukas wants to know what time you got on Mark Valeski?”

Early Tuesday morning, before making the official announcement, Jones joked that he didn’t want to prolong the decision any longer, because he was afraid it would be injurious to Lukas’s health.

“I don’t know how much his ticker could take,” Jones said. “I would feel bad.”

Jones also joked that by taking Mark Valeski out of the Derby, “it will let Mr. Lukas have a shot.”

“It may be his last time,” Jones said.

Optimizer finished ninth of 11, 20 1/2 lengths behind Bodemeister, in the Arkansas Derby in his last start.

“He’s training well, but he was training well before the Arkansas Derby,” Lukas said. “These horses will humble you. But there’s a number of reasons to run him. I think he has the right style, and this is for a new client who is doing a lot of important things for the industry.”

Optimizer is owned by the Bluegrass Hall stable of Brad Kelley, who has been reported to be in negotiations to purchase Calumet Farm.

The presence of Optimizer brings to nine the number of horses from the 13-horse Breeders’ Cup Juvenile who are in this Derby.

Lukas will now square off against former assistants Todd Pletcher (El Padrino and Gemologist), Kiaran McLaughlin (Alpha), and Mike Maker (Hansen).

“It’ll be fun for all of us to come over,” Lukas said. “I’ll coach them up a little bit.”

Also Tuesday, Rousing Sermon, third behind Hero of Order and Mark Valeski in the Louisiana Derby, completed his serious training for the Derby with a five-furlong move in 1:00.13, according to Daily Racing Form.

– additional reporting by Marcus Hersh and Mike Welsch