Borel to ride Mine That Bird
NEW YORK -- And on Belmont Stakes day, the filly will rest.
The latest episode of "How The Triple Crown Turns" resolved some major issues with the announcement that leading lady Rachel Alexandra will not run in the Belmont next Saturday.
"While she is in great shape ... we feel Rachel deserves a well-earned vacation," the Preakness-winning filly's co-owner Jess Jackson said a statement issued late Friday afternoon, about the same time most TV soaps had signed off with viewers wondering what new twists await next week.
In the Triple Crown's final installment, it is this: Leading man Calvin Borel will get back on Mine That Bird with a chance to become the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and the Belmont on different horses.
Borel won the Derby aboard Mine That Bird at 50-1 odds, then jilted him for Rachel and beat the Derby winner in the Preakness by a length. Since Borel has ridden the filly to six straight wins, he said he'd be loyal if she ran in the Belmont. But now he's free for Mine That Bird and ready to compete in his first Belmont with history riding on the outcome.
Mine That Bird, meanwhile, will attempt to become the 12th horse to complete the Derby-Belmont double and first since Thunder Gulch in 1995.
"Now that this decision is made, I am excited to come to New York and ride Mine That Bird in the Belmont Stakes," Borel said, thanking the gelding's trainer Chip Woolley and co-owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach for their patience before naming a rider.
Even though a 31st consecutive year will pass without a Triple Crown champion, this season has certainly captured the public's attention; TV ratings were up as Rachel Alexandra became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness, and that came two weeks after fans were still buzzing over Mine That Bird's incredible 6 3/4 -length win in the Derby.
"It may not be a Triple Crown year, but it's as far as you can get without having one," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It just all adds up to a lot of great stories going into the Belmont."
The field for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the three races, is just about set with as many as 10 3-year-olds challenging the Derby winner, including Peter Pan Stakes winner Charitable Man and several horses who ran in the Derby or the Preakness.
Jackson said it was a tough call, but he pointed out that Rachel Alexandra has had a tough schedule -- five races and five wins since Feb. 15 -- and added "we will always put her long-term well being first. And, of course, we want to run her when she is fresh."
Pletcher, who will send out Dunkirk to take on Mine That Bird, knows all about running a filly in the Belmont. He won it two years ago with Rags to Riches, who became the first filly in 102 years to win the "Test of the Champion."
"It could lose some of its luster if the filly doesn't run, but there's still Mine That Bird going for the third leg after winning the Derby and running so competitively in the Preakness when he had a question mark coming in," Pletcher said.
So let's just call this Belmont one for the birds.
Mine That Bird is a son of 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone, who spoiled Smarty Jones' Triple Crown bid with a dramatic come-from-behind, one-length upset. Also expected to run is Summer Bird, another son of Birdstone, who ran sixth in the Derby in only the fourth start of his career.
"He's blossoming at the right time," Summer Bird's trainer Tim Ice said. "What I really liked about the Derby was the way he galloped out. I think the (Belmont) distance will suit him."
There's also the Nick Zito connection. The two-time Belmont winner, who trained Birdstone for owner Marylou Whitney, is pointing three horses to the race -- Brave Victory, Miner's Escape and Nowhere to Hide.
All will be long shots, but Zito isn't worried. Birdstone won at 36-1, Da' Tara won for him last year at 38-1.
"We've done well in the Belmont, been consistent, so why not?" Zito said. "I don't have Secretariat with these, but I don't have to. You never know. Mine That Bird is definitely the horse to beat, no one can say he's not. Anyway, there will be a lot of birds."
Whitney isn't going to be left out, either. The 83-year-old Saratoga socialite has Luv Gov headed to the Belmont. Luv Gov was eighth in the Preakness for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Also expected are Chocolate Candy, Flying Private and Mr. Hot Stuff.
The post position draw is Wednesday.
Mine That Bird has been training "super" at Churchill Downs, said Woolley. He breezed a half mile in 51 seconds under Borel on Monday, and will work again Monday before heading to New York.
Rachel Alexandra covered the same distance in 50.20, but Jackson was noncommittal afterward. It's not hard to see why he opted to rest the filly he bought after she won the Kentucky Oaks on May 1 by an astonishing 20 lengths. She was entered in the Preakness for a supplemental fee of $100,000 and led from the start before hanging on for a one-length victory over fast-closing Mine That Bird on May 16.
"It's not necessary that she go in the Belmont, she's got a whole season ahead," Jackson said after Monday's workout. "She's been running the whole year so we have to monitor that very carefully."
Meanwhile, Woolley is making a change in travel plans, but not in race strategy. The New Mexico cowboy who hitched a horse trailer to his truck and drove Mine That Bird to Louisville, then to Baltimore and back to Louisville, will arrive in New York by plane. So will Mine That Bird.
"We're not going to alter his race to try to fit a race because anything you change is going to change his closing kick," Woolley said. "We were the best horse in the Derby that day, but I felt like we were the best horse in the Preakness that given day. We had a pretty rough trip that day and still got right there.
"And I feel going into this we're probably the best horse, so hopefully we can get a trip to win."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
THE TRIPLE CROWN
Belmont Park • June 6 • ABC 5 p.m. ET
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• Mine That Bird 2-1 favorite at Belmont
• Borel: 'We're going to win it'
• Mine That Bird turns in 'perfect' work
• Rachel Alexandra poses for Vogue
• Summer Bird puts in sharp work
• Desormeaux takes another shot
• 'Rachel' wins 134th Preakness Stakes
• Mine That Bird upsets Derby | Gallery
• Rachel Alexandra dominates Oaks | Gallery
• NTRA.com: Ky. Derby | Preakness | Belmont
• Summer Bird takes Belmont Stakes
• Borel denied | Desormeaux elated
• Cronley: State of the Union
• Novak: Birds of a feather
• Moran: Belmont tests champions, humility
• Forde: Borel's star rising | Questionable move
• Novak: Easy to fall in love with racing
• Cronley: Belmont Q&A from the e-mail circuit
• Novak: Summer Bird ready to fly | Pressure
• Plonk: Hall of Fame calls Calvin
• Jay Hovdey blog