Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Valene’s ‘Lucky Break’ Honors Late Father

by | 12.12.2018 | 12:25pm
12/8/2018. - Jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. aboard Classy John pulls away from the pack to win the 28th running of the Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile at Fair Grounds. Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges, Jr.

Murray Valene was on a conference call for his day job while simultaneously trying to bid over the phone during the 2018 Equine Sales of Louisiana 2-Year-Old sale, and had a fortuitous mix-up with the sale catalog.

He'd thought he was bidding on a filly, but Valene wound up with a juvenile colt by Songandaprayer for the final bid of $12,000. As soon as he saw the colt in person, he knew he'd gotten a great bargain.

“It turned out to be a lucky break,” Valene said, laughing. “The other filly I was looking at, she hasn't even started yet.”

Valene named the dark bay colt after his father, with whom he'd partnered in Thoroughbred ownership via Valene Farms since 1962. “Classy John” has rewarded that faith handsomely thus far, breaking his maiden first out at Saratoga just three days after the senior Valene's death at age 100.

Last Saturday, the Dallas Stewart-trained Classy John flew home a dominant 4 ½-length winner of the Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile Stakes at the Fair Grounds, and his stablemate Givemeaminit added to the excitement with a win in the Louisiana Champions Day Sprint Stakes later on the card.

“I'd like to do that every weekend,” said Valene. “It was even more special since this colt is really truly named for (my father), and you know, good horses just don't come around that often.”

Givemeaminit, a 3-year-old son of Star Guitar, was one of Valene's father's favorite horses. Though Saturday's race was only his second win from 15 starts, the colt has been in tough company since the beginning of his career and boasts earnings of $374,580. His top efforts include a third-place finish in the G1 Hopeful, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and a third in the G3 Pat Day Mile.

“He has really grown up since we back him up to sprinting,” Valene noted.

Born in Minnesota, Valene was a self-described “minor” player in the Thoroughbred game beginning in 1962, when he first moved to Louisiana. He and his father ramped up their involvement in the 1980s, at one time boasting as many as 113 horses in breeding and racing stock. Valene Farms earned several leading owner titles at Canterbury Park in his home state, but primarily races Louisiana-breds on a national scale.

Some of Valene Farms' top horses include multiple stakes winners Ide Like a Double, Autobeacat, and Doctor Mike, as well as G2 winner Designer Legs.

Today, Valene has just nine horses in training, with several more taking time off from the track at the farm. He is also involved with Louisiana's Clear Creek Stud, which stands such notable regional sires as Star Guitar, Half Ours and the up-and-coming Custom for Carlos.

His current stable size is smaller than he'd like it to be, Valene admitted, but it has been a bit of a tough year in terms of horses getting hurt. He has also been extremely busy with his nine-to-five gig, which he treats more as a five-to-nine enterprise: Valene is internationally involved in furniture and electronics, doing business with entities like WalMart and Target.

That international aspect has piqued his interest in racing in Europe at some point down the road, Valene said, but this coming year he's excited to see what the future holds for Classy John. He hinted at the possibility of putting the colt on Louisiana's Road to the Kentucky Derby.

“He's very fast and wants to go straight to the lead,” the owner said. “At the same time, he relaxes just like an old horse in the paddock, and his pedigree suggests he'll handle the distance. We'll see what happens.”

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