LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The top two finishers in the Kentucky Derby made their final major preparations for Saturday's 134th Preakness when Mine That Bird and Pioneerof the Nile were sent through half-mile breezes over a fast Churchill Downs racetrack.
Mine That Bird, the 6 3/4-length winner of the May 2 Derby, was reunited with his Derby jockey, Calvin Borel, when going out for what trainer Chip Woolley had planned as "stretching his legs down the lane," but the gelding was caught going a half-mile in 49.20 seconds by Churchill clocker John Nichols. Pioneerof the Nile, with Joe Steiner up and trainer Bob Baffert watching frontside, went in 47.60. Both horses were on the track as soon as the regularly scheduled renovation break was completed at about 8:30 a.m. Eastern.
Borel was all smiles and thumbs-up as he conversed with Woolley while Mine That Bird was being walked back to Barn 42 after the work. Borel, who has opted to ride Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness at Pimlico on Saturday, left almost immediately after the breeze for a flight to southern California, where he is scheduled to appear Tuesday on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno on NBC.
Woolley said Mine That Bird "has been doing good and has been a little too froggy" in recent days. "He might've done a little more than I wanted, but that's not a lot of work for him, and he didn't take a long breath" when being cooled out.
Baffert was very enthusiastic about how Pioneerof the Nile came out of the Derby. "I really liked what I saw this morning," he said.
Two other Preakness candidates also were sent through half-mile breezes on a busy Monday morning. General Quarters, with Justin Court aboard, went in 50.20 seconds, and Flying Private, Jamie Theriot up, went in 48.20.
Six Preakness prospects were scheduled to depart Churchill for Baltimore over the next couple of days. Mine That Bird, General Quarters, and Flying Private will leave Tuesday on separate vans, while a Tex Sutton charter flight carrying Rachel Alexandra, Pioneerof the Nile and Terrain will leave Louisville International Airport around 1:30 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, with a tentative arrival time at Pimlico set for about 4 p.m.
Big Drama has final drill at Pimlico
Big Drama, one of only two likely Preakness starters stabled at Pimlico in Baltimore as of Monday morning, had his final work for the race, going a half-mile under John Velazquez in 50 seconds. Both Velazquez and trainer David Fawkes were happy with the work, despite Big Drama jumping marks on the track at about the eighth pole.
Big Drama came onto the track at the three-sixteenths-pole gap just after 8 a.m. while accompanied by a pony. After backtracking around the far turn and a short way onto the backstretch, Big Drama was turned loose from his pony to slowly gallop the right way through the stretch, around the clubhouse turn, and down the backstretch.
Velazquez, who had never before been aboard Big Drama, took a tight hold breaking off for the work, and Big Drama began his breeze slowly, going his first furlong in 13 seconds, according to the Pimlico clocker.
Velazquez let Big Drama out a notch going to the three-furlong pole, and Big Drama accelerated noticeably through the turn, getting his first quarter-mile in 25.20 seconds. Just before the eighth pole, Big Drama, who breezed without blinkers or a shadow roll, spotted harrow tracks on the dirt surface and tried to jump them, but Velazquez quickly got Big Drama back on stride and he finished up nicely, galloping out five furlongs in 1:02.60.
-- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh