The “$64,000 question” for trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley is who will ride Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner Mine That Bird in next Saturday’s Preakness (GI) at Pimlico.
“Calvin Borel will be on the (entry) card,” Woolley said Saturday morning at Churchill Downs. “I do have a backup, but I am not ready to release it.”
On Friday, Borel agreed to ride Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) winner Rachel Alexandra for the rest of the season and the filly is being considered as a possible supplemental entry into the Preakness, which would leave Woolley looking for a rider in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
With a sloppy track greeting Mine That Bird for a third consecutive morning, Woolley altered the morning exercise program for the Derby winner from two trips around the track to a back-track to the paddock runway followed by a once-around gallop with exercise rider Charlie Figueroa up.
“The track was a little chewed up yesterday, a little heavy,” Woolley said.
Heavy rain Friday afternoon forced cancellation of the final five races on the 10-race card and left the track “off” Saturday morning.
Woolley also said Saturday morning that if Mine That Bird ran well enough at Pimlico to merit a trip to the Belmont Stakes (Grade I) on June 6, he would bring the Birdstone gelding back to Churchill Downs.
“That’s the plan, to come back here if he runs well,” Woolley said. “The horse likes it here and gets over the ground well.”
Woolley said he would stay here with the horse and not make a quick trip back to his home base in New Mexico while Mine That Bird preps for the Belmont.
WORKS BY PREAKNESS CANDIDATES TERRAIN, HULL POSTPONED – Adele Dilschneider’s Terrain galloped a mile and a half before the renovation break under exercise rider Jimmy Valdez as trainer Al Stall Jr. opted to wait a day to work the fourth-place finisher in the Toyota Blue Grass (Grade I).
“The track should be fine tomorrow at 8:30 and after a day of racing,” Stall said. “Either Jamie (Theriot) or Julien (Leparoux) will work him.”
Stall has not confirmed a rider for the Preakness.
Trainer Dale Romans moved a scheduled five-furlong work for Derby Trial (Grade III) winner Hull to Sunday morning because of track conditions.
“He galloped today and will work tomorrow,” Romans said of the undefeated colt, who is owned by Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, Team Valor International and Gary Barber. Jockey Miguel Mena is slated to be aboard for the work
Romans said he would “decide probably by Tuesday” whether Hull goes to Baltimore or waits for the June 6 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park.
LUKAS NAMES GARCIA TO RIDE FLYING PRIVATE – With exercise rider Taylor Carty up, Robert Baker and William Mack’s Flying Private galloped in the first set that trainer D. Wayne Lukas brought to the track.
Lukas confirmed that Alan Garcia would have the mount on Flying Private, who finished 19th in Kentucky Derby 135. It will mark Garcia’s second Preakness starter, having finished seventh on Mint Slewlep in 2007 behind Curlin.
GENERAL QUARTERS HAS EVENTFUL MORNING – It was an eventful return to the track on Saturday for Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) winner General Quarters. . Just before completing his mile and a half morning exercise under Justin Court, a horse dropped a rider between and six- and five-furlong poles and ran loose toward the mile chute.
“He (General Quarters) had to check a little bit when he came around the turn,” owner/trainer Tom McCarthy said. “You never know what they (loose horses) are going to do. If he had gone to the seven-eighths (pole), we’d have been in trouble.”
McCarthy kept his colt in the barn on Friday because of track conditions.
“It was still deep, muddy this morning,” McCarthy said. “He went well over it, but racing in it is a little different.”
McCarthy plans to ship General Quarters by van to Pimlico on Tuesday.
“I have never been there,” he said. “I am eager to get over there and see it.”
RACHEL ALEXANDRA, PIONEEROF THE NILE GALLOP; PAPA CLEM HEADS EAST -- Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick’s Rachel Alexandra galloped once around a sloppy racetrack with exercise rider Dominic Terry up before 6:30 on Saturday morning for trainer Steve Asmussen.
The Kentucky Oaks winner, who would have to be supplemented to next Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (Grade I), would be ridden by Calvin Borel if she starts.
The Borel-Asmussen tandem would be seeking their first win together since July 6, 2007, when Borel rode Wundelia to victory at Churchill Downs.
Rachel Alexandra is scheduled to work Sunday or Monday.
A couple of hours after Rachel Alexandra was on the track, Zayat Stables’ Pioneerof the Nile galloped a mile and a half.
“He couldn’t be doing any better,” exercise rider George Alvarez reported after the exercise over a track designated as “muddy” after the morning renovation break.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who was saddling two starters in Saturday’s Lone Star Derby (Grade III) in Texas, is expected to return to Louisville on Saturday night.
Pioneerof the Nile may work Monday and is scheduled to ship to Pimlico on Wednesday.
Bo Hirsch’s Papa Clem completed the Churchill Downs phase of his Preakness training early Saturday morning by galloping a mile and a half under exercise rider Mundo Gonzalez.
The Gary Stute trainee left Churchill Downs at 10:30 a.m. by van for Pimlico.
BARN TALK – Nominations close today for the May 23 Louisville Handicap and the May 25 Winning Colors, both Grade III events and $100,000-added. The Louisville Handicap is run at a mile and a half on the Matt Winn Turf Course and the Winning Colors is for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up going six furlongs on the main track.
Fred Bradley’s Grade I-winning veteran Brass Hat worked five furlongs over a “muddy” main track in :59.60 after the renovation break with Calvin Borel up.
“I got him from the three-quarter pole in 1:13 and 1,” trainer William “Buff” Bradley said of the move that is in preparation for the $100,000-added Louisville Handicap (GIII) on May 23. “He’s ready.”
The 8-year-old Brass Hat, earner of more than $1.8 million, finished third in his most recent start the Fifth Third Elkhorn (Grade II) on April 24 at Keeneland.
Jockey Julien Leparoux entered Saturday’s card with 996 career victories. He had five mounts on the card.
Leparoux, who rode his first winner on Aug. 18, 2005 at Saratoga, has won 53 graded stakes in his brief career and amassed earnings of $43,408,121.