BALTIMORE — Canadian champion Mine That Bird, the surprise Kentucky Derby winner with a fondness for mud, was getting precious little attention Friday on the eve of the Preakness Stakes as the lone filly in the race was the odds-on favourite.
The buzz about Rachel Alexandra has taken much of the focus away from Mine That Bird, who was being regarded as just one of 11 other colts vying to defeat her as he hung out in the famed Stall No. 40 that once housed Triple Crown winners Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. The gelding’s early odds to win the race were 6-1, leaving him tied for third with Friesen Bird behind favourite Rachel Alexandra (8-5) and second choice Pioneer of the Nile (5-1).
The muted enthusiasm for Mine That Bird comes despite his stunning Derby victory two weeks ago and a forecast of thunderstorms Saturday that could result in the sloppy conditions so adored by Canada’s 2008 two-year-old male champion.
“We could live with that,” trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. said Friday. “It either will be or it won’t be. There is not much you can do about Mother Nature.”
Jockey Mike Smith dropped in on Mine That Bird earlier in the day, expressing delight he’s been tapped to replace Calvin Borel atop the gelding for Saturday’s 134th running of the Preakness, the middle jewel of the American Triple Crown.
Borel, who steered Mine That Bird to his daring rail-hugging victory at the Derby, has instead opted to ride Rachel Alexandra. He’s ridden the horse to five straight victories and believes she has the stuff to become the first filly since 1924 to win the Preakness. Smith, however, says Mine That Bird is no one-hit wonder. The gelding is starting the race second from the rail.
Mine That Bird’s turbo-charged closing run in the muck at the Kentucky Derby, after finding a hole along the rail was one of the fastest in race history.
He ran the last quarter-mile in 23.77 seconds — the most explosive at the Derby since Secretariat’s 23-second close in 1973.
“It’s hard to say something was a fluke when a horse doesn’t just beat you, but runs by you the way he did,” Smith said. “It was just an incredible move . . . he didn’t just get up and win.
“If you watch the (overhead) blimp shot, he was running by horses in one jump. I’m hoping to get that run out of him again.”
Smith will mount Mine That Bird for the first time Saturday, just before the Preakness post parade.
Smith, a Hall of Fame jockey who rode the 50-1 Giacomo to victory in the 2005 Derby, said he’s been poring over Mine That Bird’s previous races. He likes what he’s seen of the gelding, a descendent of legendary Canadian racehorse Northern Dancer.
“I’ve watched about every race he’s run. He’s really rider-friendly, it looks like. He doesn’t have any quirks,” he said. “He seems to love the rail. He seems to love the middle of the track. I saw him swing six, seven wide one time in Canada and win. It doesn’t seem to matter where he’s at. Getting him to relax is the key.”