LOUISVILLE — For plenty of people in the Thoroughbred business, simply getting their horse into the Kentucky Derby would be reason enough to pay the entry fee.
Despite decades of trying to raise a horse with classic potential, Airdrie Stud owner and former Kentucky Governor Brereton Jones does not want to be one of those people.
With $260,000 in graded earnings to his credit, Jones' colt Mark Valeski has earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Still, trainer Larry Jones said Sunday he and his owner would need to see something special from the Louisiana Derby runner-up in his final serious work to ensure the son of Proud Citizen would be entered on Wednesday.
Mark Valeski was one of five Derby hopefuls on the Churchill Downs work tab Monday morning. Even after the bay colt covered 5 furlongs in 1:00.20 under former jockey Larry Melancon, both Joneses remained non-committal, saying they would probably wait until Wednesday to make a final call.
"I'm not going to guarantee that we're in or out," Larry Jones said. "Tomorrow will tell more and we'll know, really, on Wednesday morning when I get on him. Especially if he tries to buck me off coming off that track, then he's in the gate."
Mark Valeski is not known for being a strong work horse by himself, so Melancon got after him early, working through fractions of :11.60, :23.40, :35.20 and :47.60. The 6-furlong gallop-out was caught in 1:14.60.
"You have to pay $50,000 to run against 19 other horses. So you better think you're loaded for bear," said Brereton Jones, who has never had a Derby starter. "This is a really good horse and he's getting better all the time but you better be at your best for the Derby.
"He's not drinking water after the work so that shows he wasn't really exerting himself."
Grade I winner Creative Cause, who arrived on Saturday, put in just the right amount of effort trainer Mike Harrington was hoping for Monday, breezing 4 furlongs in :47.80. The son of Giant's Causeway, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last November, ticked off splits of :12.60, :24.60, and :36 with a gallop-out 1:01.20.
"I couldn't ask him to work any better than he worked, and I think he did it fairly easily," Harrington said. "It wasn't like my rider was asking him for his life. The best thing is the way he handled the racetrack, so I'm just hoping Saturday the track is like it was today."
While Creative Cause and Mark Valeski came out following the renovation break, trainer Steve Asmussen sent his duo of Sabercat and Daddy Nose Best out shortly after the track opened. Sabercat, winner of last year's Delta Jackpot, went first, breezing 4 furlongs in :48.40 with Sunland Derby winner Daddy Nose Best covering the same distance in :49.40.
"It's amazing how similar these two horses are," Asmussen said. "At every stage, both of them. They showed up on the same van ride, they worked together six to ten times last spring and fall and both of them had two starts at Churchill in the Spring.
"When you look at where they're at here, I like the confidence level of Daddy Nose Best, the spacing of his races. And I like the experience that Sabercat has gotten with the travel and the dirt that he's taken. I think they both have a lot of positives going for them."
One day after his stablemate Bodemeister put in his final drill, the Bob Baffert-trained Liaison covered 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 working in company with Mile High Magic. The son of Indian Charlie put in splits of :24.80, :37.20, and :48.80 with a gallop-out in 1:13.20, finishing on even terms with his workmate.
After winning the Grade I CashCall Futurity in December, Liaison has had a rough sophomore campaign, clipping heels and losing his rider in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, finishing fourth in the San Felipe and coming home sixth in the Santa Anita Derby.
"Today, he looked more like a Derby horse than he has in the last couple of months. I was pretty excited with the way he went," Baffert said. "He still has a ways to go, but the way he went today I think definitely he deserves a chance to run in the Kentucky Derby. All systems are go."
Dorochenko eyeing Oaks
Milania, fourth in the 7 -furlong Grade II Beaumont at Keeneland, worked a half-mile in :48.20 over the all-weather surface at Arlington Park on Monday. The Bernardini filly, out of 1998 Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill, remains under consideration for the Kentucky Oaks, trainer Gennadi Dorochenko said.
"We'll see tomorrow," Dorochenko told reporters. "You ask so many questions, like FBI agent."
The Russian-born Dorochenko made headlines when he saddled 109-to-1 shot Hero of Order to victory in the $1 million Louisiana Derby on April 1.