MINE THAT BIRD BACK-TRACKS OVER CHURCHILL DOWNS MUD – Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner Mine That Bird returned to the racetrack for the first time since finishing third in last Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (Grade I) by leisurely back-tracking once around early Thursday morning under exercise rider Charlie Figueroa.
"He is fresh as a daisy this morning,” trainer Chip Woolley said as Mine That Bird pranced off the Churchill Downs track that had been rendered sloppy by overnight and morning rain.
The break from the track was the longest for Mine That Bird “since we brought him back last December off the layoff from the Breeders’ Cup,” Woolley said. “He will walk the next two days and go back to the track Sunday.
Owners Mark Allen of Double Eagle Ranch and Dr. Leonard Blach are scheduled to arrive in Louisville from New Mexico on Friday and, along with Woolley and jockey Calvin Borel, receive their Kentucky Derby trophies on Saturday.
“I am going to get with Mark and Doc when they get here and right now I am aiming for Monday for a decision on what we are going to do,” Woolley said. “We have six options that we are looking at.”
TIME MAY BE RIGHT FOR WARRIOR’S REDWARD IN NORTHERN DANCER – For A. Stevens Miles Jr.’s Warrior’s Reward, the road to the Kentucky Derby hit a dead end in Tampa, Fla., with an eighth-place finish behind Musket Man in the Tampa Bay Derby (Grade III) on March 14.
“He didn’t get the best of rides that day and it might have been a blessing for him,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “He made some noise in that race and had a little throat surgery after that has been good since. Maybe it was not our time yet.”
Fast forward nearly three months and it appears the time may be at hand for the son of Medaglia d’Oro who figures to be an overwhelming favorite in Saturday’s 12th running of the $100,000-added Northern Dancer (Grade III) at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Warrior’s Reward will break from post position three under Calvin Borel.
Warrior’s Reward returned to the races on May 1 and won a seven-furlong allowance test by 2 ¼ lengths over Munnings. All Munnings did in his next start was romp in last Saturday’s Woody Stephens Stakes (Grade II) at Belmont Park.
“I was pleased to see that,” said Wilkes, whose summer goals for Warrior’s Reward include the Jim Dandy (Grade II) and the Travers (Grade I) at Saratoga.
Warrior’s Reward tuned up for the Northern Dancer with a bullet, five-furlong work in the mud of 1:01.60 on June 4. He worked in company with Miss Isella, who figures to be the favorite in Saturday’s 35th running of the $200,000-added Fleur De Lis Handicap (Grade II) at 1 1/8 miles on the main track.
Miss Isella has won four of her six starts at Churchill Downs and will be ridden Saturday by Borel, who has been aboard in all five of the 4-year-old filly’s victories.
“She just loves this track,” said Wilkes of Miss Isella, who has won the Grade II Louisville Distaff and Falls City Handicap (Grade II) in her two most recent Churchill Downs races. “The only track she doesn’t seem to like is Gulfstream Park and I have never figured that out.”
ARSON SQUAD RELISHING RETURN TO THE DIRT – If horses could talk, one would imagine that Jay Em Ess Stable’s Arson Squad’s succinct appraisal of synthetic surfaces would go something like this: “NAY!”
“The dirt turned him right around,” said Michelle Nevin, assistant to trainer Rick Dutrow, of Arson Squad, who joined the barn late last summer following a run of seven consecutive off-the-board finishes over Southern California’s three synthetic race tracks.
In his first start for Dutrow, Arson Squad won the Meadowlands Cup Handicap, the third Grade II victory of his career. All three of those victories have come at 1 1/8 miles, the distance he will be asked to run Saturday in the 28th running of the $600,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I).
Arson Squad last ran in $6 million Dubai World Cup (Grade I) on March 28 in which he finished 11th, placing 3 ¼ lengths in front of fellow Foster rival Asiatic Boy. Once back from Dubai, Arson Squad has run of a string of five bullet works at Aqueduct.
“I was on some of those; we spread it around,” said Nevin, who served as the regular exercise rider for 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown. “His last work there on June 3 in company with Kip Deville was lights out. Hopefully he will like it here.”
That five-furlong move with the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Mile (Grade I) winner was accomplished in 1:00.
Arson Squad arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday on the same flight that brought Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird back to Louisville from his third-place effort in the Belmont Stakes. With Nevin up, Arson Squad worked a half-mile after the break in :49.60, the 17th fastest of 31 at the distance.
Arson Squad, who will break from post position four under Garrett Gomez, will carry 118 pounds, six fewer than probable Stephen Foster favorite Einstein. It makes a 3-pound shift in Arson Squad’s favor from the most recent matchup of the two in the Jan. 31 Donn Handicap (Grade I) at Gulfstream Park in which Einstein finished 3 ¼ lengths ahead of Arson Squad.
WHIRLIE BERTIE BACK IN ACTION FOR MARGOLIS – When Whirlie Bertie zoomed through her conditions here last spring and summer, her opportunities appeared limitless. But after leaving Churchill Downs she ran third in the Monmouth Oaks (Grade III) and then faded badly in the Oct. 3 Indiana Oaks (Grade II) at Hoosier Park.
Owned by Richard, Bertram and Elaine Klein, Whirlie Bertie has not been seen at the races since, but that will end Friday in the fourth race when she returns in a seven-furlong, allowance optional claiming event.
“She got hot that day and after that race we sent her to Rood and Riddle (in Lexington) to check her out,” trainer Steve Margolis said. “She had a little bit of a fracture in her right hind leg. No surgery was required and it healed well on its own and she stayed here all winter.”
All of Whirlie Bertie’s win have come around two turns and Margolis is not quite sure what to expect in Friday’s sprint.
“It will be interesting. I was looking to run a mile and a sixteenth, but there was nothing for her,” Margolis said. “She has been training good and we’ve done a lot of schooling with her. The outside spot (post five of six) should be good and (jockey) Shaun (Bridgmohan) knows her and has won on her.”
MILESTONE WATCH – Jockey Calvin Borel, who has ridden 922 winners in his career at Churchill Downs, is named on five mounts Thursday. He needs three victories to equal Don Brumfield’s total of 925 for second all time at Churchill Downs behind Pat Day (2,482).
Trainer David Vance, who has sent out 299 winners at Churchill Downs, is represented by Northeast Harbor in Thursday’s sixth race as he bids to become the 11th conditioner with 300 victories at Churchill Downs.
Also closing in on the 300-win mark at Churchill Downs is trainer Greg Foley. Currently tied for third in the trainer standings with 10 victories this spring, Foley has a career total of 295 here. He has two horses entered Thursday: Gerivello in the first and Speak of Kings in the ninth.
BARN TALK – Fleur De Lis Handicap contender Miss Isella will now run under the ownership of Elaine Jones.
Stephen Foster Hadicap favorite Einstein is scheduled to school in the paddock with horses in Thursday’s second race for trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi.
Nominations close Saturday for the 109th running of the Debutante (Grade III) for 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs on the main track on June 27. Garden District won the 2008 Debutante by a half-length over Rachel Alexandra.
Training hours will begin at 5 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday to give horsemen the opportunity to train under the lights that will be used for the three night cards this meet. The first of those nights is Friday, June 19, followed by June 26 and Thursday, July 2.
CORRECTION – An item in the May 31 Barn Notes incorrectly stated that Lady On Holiday was bred to Jump Start. She was bred to 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown and is in foal.
WORK TAB – Jake Wil Gallop, winner of the USA Stakes at Lone Star Park on May 25 in his most recent start, worked three furlongs over a sloppy track in :38.60 in advance of Saturday’s Jefferson Cup (Grade II).