BALTIMORE — Canadian champ Mine That Bird stunned naysayers on Saturday to come within a length of repeating his jaw-dropping Kentucky Derby victory at the Preakness Stakes, proving he’s far from a one-hit racehorse wonder.
Rachel Alexandra became the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924, but she did it with a feisty Mine That Bird nipping at her heels in the final stretch.
The diminutive gelding, Canada’s 2008 two-year-old champion, was the subject of almost as much buzz in the aftermath of the thrilling race because of how close he came to cruising past her.
“He’s a tough little dude,” said jockey Mike Smith, who climbed aboard Mine That Bird for the first time just a few minutes before the race.
“He worked his way through there and kept on trying. If we could have gone another sixteenth of a mile, I think he would have tackled her.”
One racing veteran who suspected Mine That Bird was a flash in the pan was floored by his performance on Saturday.
“I am surprised and impressed,” said John Shapiro, a 68-year-old Pimlico veteran who’s been working at racetracks since he was 15 years old.
“He’s a smart, courageous horse. People are sure paying attention to him now.”
Rachel Alexandra was the odds-on favourite for the 134th running of the Preakness while Mine That Bird came into the race with 6-1 odds, tied for third with Friesen Fire.
She and Mine That Bird, a descendent of Canadian legend Northern Dancer, could square off again at the Belmont in two weeks.
Rachel Alexandra’s handlers say they’ll monitor the filly before deciding for sure whether to enter her in the Belmont, while Bennie (Chip) Woolley Jr., Mine That Bird’s trainer, says the gelding will be there.
The Belmont, a longer race that favours Mine That Bird’s late running style, is held on June 6 in New York. Mine That Bird’s father, Birdstone, won the third jewel in the elusive American Triple Crown in 2004.
The gelding’s underdog story had already drawn comparisons to Seabiscuit, another underestimated racehorse who thrilled Depression-era crowds with his big wins against well-heeled competitors.
With Mine That Bird’s bargain-basement yearling purchase price of US$9,500, an injured trainer who hauled him by trailer across the country for the Derby and his small stature, the gelding has seemingly answered the call for a modern-day Cinderella story from those yearning for one in the racing world.
The story got even more Hollywood this week at the Pimlico, where Mine That Bird’s occupation of famed Stall No. 40, which once housed Triple Crown winners Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, was viewed with skepticism.
Even Calvin Borel, the daring jockey who steered the gelding into a narrow gap along the rail at the Derby and to ultimate victory, snubbed Mine That Bird in favour of Rachel Alexandra. Borel’s switch marked the first time a jockey surrendered a shot at the Triple Crown by switching from the Derby winner to a different horse in the Preakness.