Mine That Bird 2-1 favorite for Belmont Stakes
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) ” What a perfect contrast in this soap opera of a Triple Crown season: The trainer hobbles up to the podium to talk about the horse who streaked to victory in the Kentucky Derby and is looking to add Saturday’s Belmont Stakes to his record.
Still on crutches after breaking his right leg in a motorcycle crash before the Derby, Chip Woolley said his little gelding is ready for one more big run in the Belmont. A win, and Mine That Bird would become the 12th Derby-Belmont winner and first since Thunder Gulch in 1995.
And his rider, Calvin Borel, would be the first jockey to win the Triple Crown on different horses, having won the Derby aboard Mine That Bird and the Preakness aboard Rachel Alexandra.
“The horse is doing super,” Woolley said. “He’s gotten stronger every day since the Preakness, and we’re tickled with where he is right now.”
Mine That Bird arrived at Belmont Park on Wednesday after a plane ride from Louisville, hours after being made the 2-1 favorite in a field of 10 3-year-olds for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. The Derby winner drew the No. 7 post position for the longest and most grueling the Triple Crown races.
Charitable Man, who missed the Derby and the Preakness but won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 9, was the second choice at 3-1. He drew the No. 6 post, and will be ridden by Alan Garcia, winner of last year’s Belmont with 38-1 long shot Da’ Tara.
Also entered, from the rail out, are: Chocolate Candy (10-1), Dunkirk (4-1), Mr. Hot Stuff (15-1), Summer Bird (12-1), Luv Gov (20-1), Flying Private (12-1), Miner’s Escape (15-1) and Brave Victory (15-1).
Borel guided Mine That Bird to a breathtaking last-to-first run along the rail to win the Derby by 6 3/4 lengths on May 2, and the gelding finished a diminishing length behind the filly in the Preakness under Mike Smith with another come-from-behind run two weeks later.
In the Belmont, Mine That Bird may be closer to the leaders because the early pace usually is not as fast as in shorter races.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Woolley said at the post position draw. “With his running style, we’re going to have to let him run his race. When you start slowing the fractions down, if you let him run his same race, he’s going to move way on up.”
“If we can just be within 10 or 12 lengths of them, I feel comfortable he’ll have enough kick left.”
While other trainers respect Mine That Bird, they certainly aren’t conceding the race ” especially Charitable Man’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who saddled 2006 Belmont winner Jazil. The colt is a son of 1999 Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, is 2-for-2 at Belmont and 3-for-3 on dirt tracks. He’s also fresh, fit and “couldn’t be doing any better.
“I wouldn’t trade places with anyone,” McLaughlin said.
Dunkirk, the third choice, will leave from the No. 2 post and be ridden for the first time by John Velazquez.
The gray colt trained by Todd Pletcher will try to rebound from an 11th-place finish in the Derby. Pletcher said Dunkirk stumbled at the start, took four or five strides to right himself and never got into the race.
“I’m drawing a line through the Derby,” said Pletcher, who won the 2007 Belmont with Rags to Riches. “I never felt he ran to his capabilities.
A couple of Hall of Fame trainers will take their shots, too.
Nick Zito, who won the Belmont with Birdstone (Mine That Bird’s sire) in 2004 and Da’ Tara last year, will send out Brave Victory and Miner’s Escape. Four-time Belmont winner D. Wayne Lukas has Flying Private and Luv Gov.
“I think we have some live long shots,” Zito said. “They may not be as good as the Mine That Birds or Charitable Mans, but they didn’t have the rigors of the Triple Crown (prep) races leading up to the Derby. Who knows? Maybe lightning can strike twice.”
Brave Victory ran third in the Peter Pan, while Miner’s Escape won the Federico Tesio at Pimlico on May 2.
Flying Private was last in the 19-horse Derby but rebounded with a fourth-place finish in the Preakness. Luv Gov was eighth in the Preakness.
“I think it’s the style of the horse and, of course there’s the gut check with the pedigree about the quarter pole, too,” said Lukas, explaining what it takes to win the race known as the “Test of the Champion.” “We think we have a couple of horses that fit that mold to be competitive.”
Rachel Alexandra was considered for the Belmont, but co-owner Jess Jackson decided last Friday to pass on the race to give his exceptional filly a break after the Preakness ” her sixth straight victory. Borel would have ridden the filly in the Belmont, and Woolley would have had to find a new rider.
“I’m glad she’s not running,” Borel said.