Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Suerte Equine’s Mine That Bird, winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), returned to the scene of the greatest accomplishment early Thursday evening when he arrived at Churchill Downs and took up residence in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will now guide the Derby winner’s career.
Like his journey to Kentucky Derby glory some 13 months earlier, Mine That Bird arrived at Lukas’ Barn 44 in a trailer that had traveled from co-owner Mark Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch near Roswell, NM, where the 4-year-old gelding has been training since March 15. Mine That Bird was trained by Bennie “Chip” Woolley when he scored his 50-1 upset in Kentucky Derby 135, the second-largest upset in the history of America’s greatest race. He went on to finish second to Kentucky Oaks (GI)-winning filly Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness and third to eventual 3-year-old champion Summer Bird in the Belmont Stakes (GI).
Allen accompanied Mine That Bird on the journey that included 10 hours on the road before an overnight stopover in Tulsa, OK, followed by 12 hours on the road on Thursday. Despite the long journey, Mine That Bird appeared frisky and full of himself when he stepped out of the trailer and made his first rounds in the Lukas shedrow.
The Derby winner’s co-owner said the decision by him and partner Dr. Leonard Blach to move Mine That Bird from Woolley’s care to the Lukas barn was difficult.
"Chip is a close friend of mine, and he done us a heck of a job last year,” Allen said. “But I have a stable of horses back there that I really need looked after, and Mr. Lukas and some other trainers threw their hat in the ring. When a legend throws his hat in the ring, it’s hard to go against him.”
With the move, Mine That Bird is the latest winner of the famed “Run for the Roses” to settle into a Churchill Downs barn that has housed four Kentucky Derby winners that won the race while wearing Lukas’ signature white bridle.
“But I don’t think we can put his name on the sign though – we can’t take much credit,” said a smiling Lukas. “But it is an opportunity, and I feel fortunate that they picked us to maybe bring him back to the prominence that he enjoyed here a year ago.”
Lukas was impressed with Mine That Bird’s physical appearance and the energy displayed by the 4-year-old gelding after spending most of two days on the road from New Mexico. He arrived at the track just after 8 p.m. (EDT).
“He’s such a gutty little competitor,” said Lukas. “Looking at him here taking his bath, I think he looks better than I’ve ever seen him. The time off has really served him well. He looks better to me right now, and talking to the people who’ve been around him, I think he’s doing better right now than he has. So, I’ve got a little bit of an edge there. I’m getting a nice horse with some good condition him – I’m very pleased with what I see. For a horse that just got off a 12-hour van ride, that rascal looks pretty damned good.”
Mine That Bird brings a career record of 5-2-2 in 14 races with earnings of $2,196,581 into Lukas’ barn. Lukas said the newest member of his stable might be ready to run within 60 days or so, but added that he might be fitter than he appears having come from high altitude training in New Mexico. He said the 2010 Derby winner could go out for a jog on Friday morning after the mid-morning break for track maintenance.
While Mine That Bird’s greatest career moment appeared at Churchill Downs last year on the first Saturday in May, Allen said he is hoping for another big day beneath the track’s historic Twin Spires when the Breeders’ Cup comes to Churchill Downs on Nov. 5-6 – highlighted by the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Saturday, Nov. 6.
“That’s our goal – right there,” Allen said. “We’re going to keep him here and not ship him around like we did last year. That took a lot out of him, and a lot of that was my fault. We’re going let Mr. Lukas do his magic on him, but that’s our goal: the Breeders’ Cup.”
Lukas said he would like to find an allowance race to get Mine That Bird started as he makes his return from a ninth-place finish behind the unbeaten mare Zenyatta in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. But nothing is nailed down at this point.
“I haven’t talked with Mark or Dr. Blach about probably which races we’d want to target,” Lukas said. “But I’m sure the Whitney’s going to jump right out there, and maybe the Suburban at Belmont could be another possibility. Then they’ve got the Salvatore Mile over at Monmouth Park, which is another option. So there are plenty of options. The ultimate goal, of course, would be the Breeders’ Cup. Whatever we do, we’ll work backwards from the Breeders’ Cup to make sure we look good here.”