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Kentucky Derby Winner Mine That Bird Returns to Churchill To Prepare for Belmont, Search for New Rider Begins
Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner Mine That Bird, a gallant runner-up to the brilliant filly Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness (GI), is off of the road and back in his stall at Barn 42 at Churchill Downs following a road trip from Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Suerte Equine’s son of Birdstone will return to the track on Tuesday to begin his preparation for a run in the Belmont Stakes (GI), the third jewel of racing’s Triple Crown that will be run on June 6 at New York’s Belmont Park.
Trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr. rolled his truck and the trailer that carried the Derby winner to halt in front of the barn at 6:30 p.m. (EDT). The gelded son of Birdstone stepped off the van following the nine and a half hour and into the barn, where he took a few rounds to stretch his legs. Mine That Bird then relaxed by grazing in the lush grass behind the barn.
“The trip was great it, it went smooth as silk,” said Woolley. “He looks good. He come off the trailer pretty relaxed and looks all right, so we’re pretty happy with where he’s at right now.”
The journey from Baltimore was less eventful that Mine That Bird’s journey through the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. The Derby winner ran into some traffic problems and had to swing wide for the run down the stretch with a furious rally under jockey Mike Smith that erased all but one length form his early deficit to the victorious Kentucky Oaks (GI)-winning filly Rachel Alexandra.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to that filly,” Woolley said. “She run huge and deserves all the respect. She run a great race and we just come up a little short.”
Mine That Bird won’t get much time to relax on his return to the track where he notched his 6 ¾-length victory at odds of 50-1 in the May 2 Kentucky Derby. Woolley said Mine That Bird would head back to the track on Tuesday to resume his training for the Belmont.
“We’ll just maybe jog him a couple of rounds backwards tomorrow and then go back and gallop the next day,” Woolley said. “We don’t know when we’ll work him. We’ll let him decide that. He’s run two hard races and we’ll let him freshen up a little bit. When he starts to showing he’s a little too fresh, he’ll stretch his legs. But we’ll make that decision later.”
As he returned to Churchill Downs, Woolley and co-owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach found themselves in the unusual position of again looking for a jockey to ride Mine That Bird in the Belmont. Calvin Borel gave up the mount after the Derby to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. Mike Smith was aboard for the Derby winner’s big effort in the Preakness, but he is committed to ride Madeo for trainer John Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss in the Charlie Whittingham Stakes (GI) at Hollywood Park on Belmont Stakes Day.
Smith rode Giacamo to victory in the 2005 Kentucky Derby for the Mosses and Shirreffs, and is the regular rider for their unbeaten champion mare Zenyatta. So Smith will honor an earlier commitment to ride Madeo in the Whittingham.
“I don’t know,” said Woolley. “It’s kinda funny. You’d think if you get a horse this good, you’d keep one, but apparently not. So we’ll deal with that here in a couple of days and we’ll see what happens.”
Woolley said he’s heard from the agents of several riders who are interested in the mount on the Derby winner in the 1 ½-mile third jewel of the Triple Crown. He has not made up his mind, but indicated that he won’t wait to see whether Rachel Alexandra goes on to the Belmont. If the filly stays in trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn, it would free Calvin Borel to ride the horse he piloted to the second-biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history.
“We’re going to make a decision pretty quickly, so we’ll see what happens,” said Woolley. “Patience is probably the number one concern. Is somebody patient and will they wait and see how things develop. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
While Mine That Bird will be in familiar surroundings at Churchill Downs as he prepares for the Belmont Stakes, Woolley said his Derby winner could have a different ride when he makes the trip to Belmont Park. Woolley said Mine That Bird would probably fly to Belmont in the days before the race rather than travel in his trailer because of concerns about traffic on the trip to the Elmont, N.Y. track.
The runner-up finish in the Preakness improved Mine That Bird’s career record to 5-2-0 in 10 races and lifted his earnings to $2,011,581.