MINE THAT BIRD BACK ON THE TRACK AT CHURCHILL DOWNS – It had been nearly 10 months, but on Friday morning 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird stepped back on the track where he became a household name in taking the Run for the Roses.
Owned by Mark Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch and Dr. Leonard Blach’s Buena Suerte Equine, Mine That Bird returned to Churchill Downs at 8 p.m. Thursday after a two-day van trip from Allen’s ranch in Roswell, N.M.
“Same trailer as last year, just a different route,” Allen said. “Wednesday we drove 10 hours to just outside of Tulsa where we stayed overnight at the Rockin Z Ranch, and then 12 hours to Louisville.” Last year, Mine That Bird came to Kentucky via Dallas and a stopover at Lone Star Park.
Instead of going to Barn 42 as he did for last year’s Kentucky Derby and where he stayed until leaving for the last time last year on July 24 for the West Virginia Derby (GII), Mine That Bird went to Barn 44 with new trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
“The bigger challenge is with a horse with great potential that can’t run,” Lukas said shortly after Mine That Bird stepped off the trailer and walked around the shedrow. “We know this horse can run. He tailed off at the end of last year and now we can try to put him back on top.”
Mine That Bird closed out 2009 with a ninth-place finish behind unbeaten Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 7. Following the Breeders’ Cup, Mine That Bird returned to the ranch and did not resume training until March 15.
“We just let him be a horse back at the ranch,” said Charlie Figueroa, Mine That Bird’s regular exercise rider last year and morning companion this year at Roswell. “When he started back training, he had a different attitude from last year. It was a little more of a taking care of business thing.”
The ranch has a half-mile training track and before he left this week, Mine That Bird was up to a mile and a half a day galloping.
“Usually, I’d jog him one time around and then gallop another three times around, sometimes more,” Figueroa said. “It is a sandy track, and I learned from being on tracks like that in Arizona, that you cut back about 30 percent of what you usually do to get them fit.”
Lukas liked what he saw of Mine That Bird when he arrived.
“He has been training at altitude, and he may be fitter than a horse coming from Lexington,” Lukas said Thursday night. “I’m going to take him out and jog him in the morning.”
With the renovation break about to end Friday morning, Lukas, on his pony, had Mine That Bird ready to go on the track with exercise rider Arielle Witkowski in the saddle.
“OK, boy, this is where you became famous,” Lukas said, giving Mine That Bird a pat on the nose.
Allen and Figueroa looked on from the viewing stand at the six-furlong gap.
“Hey, Mark. Did he run in a white bridle last year?” Lukas asked Allen referring to his trademark bridles. “You know those move a horse up two lengths.”
“Well, if they move him up two lengths, we’re gonna have a good year,” Allen said.
With the track open, Mine That Bird jogged around to the sixteenth pole with Lukas alongside and then jogged back to the backstretch before finishing his morning exercise with a little time in the mile chute. Mine That Bird was on his toes as he walked back to Barn 44.
“First time I’ve ever been on a Derby winner,” Witkowski said with a smile.
“I think he looks better than I have ever seen him. I am very pleased with what I see,” Lukas said. “He will gallop tomorrow morning.”
Allen plans to stay in Louisville for “four or five days” and Figueroa may stay a bit longer to help with the transition of Mine That Bird from life on the ranch to the Lukas barn. However, Allen does have a side trip planned for Saturday to Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania to see Double Eagle’s Consul Romano (CHI) run that night.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be run here Nov. 6, is the ultimate goal for Mine That Bird this year and Allen is hoping the gelding has at least three starts before the World Championships.
“We will work backward from the Breeders’ Cup to make sure we look good here,” Lukas said. “I’m sure the Whitney (Aug. 7) is going to jump out there and maybe the Suburban (July 3) at Belmont could be another possibility. Then they’ve got the Salvatore Mile (also July 3) at Monmouth Park, so there are plenty of options.”
SOLIS REMEMBERS “AN AMAZING HORSE” SNOW CHIEF – One of the top thoroughbreds of the mid-1980s, Snow Chief, died last Saturday at age 27, almost 24 years to the day he won the Preakness.
Along for a great majority of the ride was jockey Alex Solis.
“I am very grateful to him,” Solis said. “He put me on the map in Southern California.”
Snow Chief compiled a record of 24-13-3-5 for earnings of $3,383,210. Solis was aboard 17 times, recording 10 victories with two seconds and four thirds. His only off-the-board finish on Snow Chief was in the 1986 Kentucky Derby when Snow Chief finished 11th.
“He just didn’t handle the track that day,” Solis said. “He beat everybody east and west, but the Derby was just one of those races. I knew at the half-mile pole. He got the lead for a little bit and usually he would fight, but not that day.”
Snow Chief had run three times as a 2-year-old before Solis got on board at the Del Mar meet.
“When I first got on him, he was not giving 100 percent all the time,” Solis said. “I suggested to (trainer) Mel Stute that blinkers might be the answer and he had them on from the end of his 2-year-old year on.”
The blinkers went on in the Hollywood Futurity and started a five-race win streak leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Along the way, Snow Chief won the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows, the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and the Santa Anita Derby.
Nine days after Snow Chief won the Preakness, he won the $1 million Jersey Derby at Garden State Park.
“He was an amazing horse with a lot of heart,” Solis said. “Horses like that don’t come around very often.”
CONNIE AND MICHAEL EYES MOTHER GOOSE – The Brooklyn Boyz Stables’ Connie and Michael expanded her resume Thursday afternoon at Churchill Downs by romping to a 5 ¼-length allowance victory in her dirt debut.
“She is pretty special,” trainer Ken McPeek said. “Her owner, Mr. (Anthony) Bonomo lives in Manhattan and wants to try to run her in New York, so she is headed to the Mother Goose.”
The Mother Goose (GI) is worth $250,000 and run at 1 1/16 miles on June 26.
Connie and Michael debuted last fall at Keeneland on Polytrack, winning by 7 ¾ lengths after breaking from post position 12. Three weeks later, she pressed the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) before fading to eighth, beaten less than five lengths. Three weeks after her Breeders’ Cup dsappointment Connie and Michael finished third, beaten a length, in the Grade III Miesque on turf.
Thursday’s victory marked her return to the races after a nearly six-month layoff. Connie and Michael turned back a challenge from Lady Etienne in the upper stretch before drawing off under Francisco Torres.
Connie and Michael is not the only talented 3-year-old filly in the McPeek barn. He also has Beautician, who ran fourth in the Kentucky Oaks (GI).
“Beautician has been working every Saturday on grass on my farm in Lexington,” McPeek said. “She is going to run in the Regret (at 1 1/8 miles on the grass June 12). “I’ve also got Striking Dancer for the Fleur De Lis (June 12) and My Baby Baby for the Early Times Mint Julep (June 5).”
Noble’s Promise, fifth in the Kentucky Derby (GI) after taking the lead entering the stretch for McPeek, is slated to leave June 3 for England where he is scheduled to run in the St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 15.
BARN TALK – A. Stevens Miles Jr.’s Warrior’s Reward, runner-up in the Churchill Downs (GII) on Derby Day, indicated his readiness for the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) at Belmont Park by blazing a bullet five furlongs over a fast track in :58.80 on Friday morning. With exercise rider Tracey Wilkes up, Warrior’s Reward recorded fractions of :12.60, :24.40, :36.20 and :47.40 with a six-furlong gallop-out time of 1:11.40 and seven-eighths in 1:25 before the renovation break. “He had company for a while,” trainer Ian Wilkes said of Warrior’s Reward, who quickly made up a seven-length deficit on his companion. “It was a good work, and he galloped out strong, too.” Warrior’s Reward is scheduled to leave for New York on Thursday and Wilkes indicated the colt may work again Wednesday before shipping out. …
Tom Walters’ Pretty Prolific, runner-up in the Grade I Humana Distaff on May 1, will bypass the Winning Colors on Memorial Day according to trainer Jim Baker. “She’s turned out at the farm,” Baker said. “We didn’t want to cut back to six furlongs (the Winning Colors distance) and we wanted to freshen her for a seven-eighths stake at Saratoga.” That would be the $250,000 Ballerina (GI) on Aug. 28.
WORK TAB – IEAH Stables and Resolute Group Stables’ Court Vision, runner-up in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) in his most recent start, worked a half-mile in :49.80. It was the 22nd fastest of 42 at the distance.
HORSEMEN’S GOLF SCRAMBLE RETURNS ON JUNE 8 – The second annual Horsemen’s Golf Scramble will be held Tuesday, June 8 at the Glenmary Country Club in Fern Creek, Ky., to help raise funds for the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs. The cost of the golf outing is $100 per player with four players to a team. Players will be treated to an 11 a.m. lunch. The 18-hole tournament will begin with a shotgun start at 12:30 p.m. There will be contests for the longest drive, closest to the pin, and a hole-in-one in which someone could win a 2010 Toyota Corolla from Oxmoor Toyota. Registration is due Friday, May 28 and entry forms can be found at the Backside Learning Center or by visiting www.derbymusuem.org/backsidelc.
BRASS HAT’S TRAINER ‘BUFF’ BRADLEY WILL BE SPECIAL ‘GET IN THE GAME WITH JILL BYRNE’ GUEST ON SATURDAY – Trainer William “Buff” Bradley, who conditions the popular 9-year-old gelding Brass Hat, will be Saturday’s “Get in the Game with Jill Byrne” special guest. Byrne and Bradley will discuss several topics including Saturday’s feature race, the 73rd running of the Grade III Louisville Handicap, where Bradley will send out defending champ Brass Hat. The weekly 30-minute seminars offer fans an insider look at the world of horse racing every Saturday in the paddock area starting at 11:45 a.m. Also, it will be televised on television monitors throughout Churchill Downs.
PRIZE MONEY, TRIP TO HORSEPLAYER WORLD SERIES UP FOR GRABS IN SUNDAY’S ‘WHO’S THE CHAMP?’ HANDICAPPING CONTEST – Churchill Downs’ “Who’s the Champ?” Handicapping Contest continues every Sunday through June 13 with $4,000 in prize money and a coveted prize package to compete in the Horseplayer World Series each week.
The weekly first prize is $1,500 and a five-day, four-night trip to Las Vegas with round-trip airfare courtesy of American Airlines to compete in the Horseplayer World Series, which is scheduled for Feb. 16-19, 2011 at the Orleans Resort and Casino.
Ira Hopkins of Louisville was last week’s winner.
The “Who’s the Champ?” Handicapping Contest is a game of skill that tests the player’s ability to handicap Thoroughbred racing. Each contestant will start the day with a $24 imaginary bankroll and may only wager exactly $2 to win and $2 to place on six designated races from Churchill Downs.
The contest costs $30 per entry ($25 for Twin Spires Club members) and is limited to 400 entries with a limit of three entries per person. Registration is open Sundays between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. in the Champions Club Lounge on the second floor of the clubhouse.