Horse racing: Mine That Bird shows it’s no fluke with 2nd-place finish in Preakness
By John Jeansonne
BALTIMORE — In the well-publicized Rachel Alexandra vs. Mine That Bird matchup — filly vs. New Mexico-based gelding, chic chick vs. cowboy chic — both thoroughbreds were coming off wildly impressive victories even as both were being asked to prove themselves.
Rachel Alexandra had won the Kentucky Oaks by an outrageous 20 € lengths but never had run against colts. Mine That Bird had won the Kentucky Derby with a smashing stretch run but was seen as “catching lightning in a bottle,” in the words of veteran trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Plus, there was the saga of jockey Calvin Borel opting to ride Rachel — the horse he guided to that Oaks victory — instead of Bird, his Derby winner. But both showed their stuff in Saturday’s Preakness.
“I’m thrilled to death with the race my horse ran,” said Mine That Bird trainer Chip Woolley, whose horse appeared, for the first half of the race, as if he might need the crutches Woolley has been using while a broken leg heals.
Woolley wanted replacement jockey Mike Smith to hold Bird back for a single late charge, and Smith did so. “Everything was going according to Hoyle,” Woolley contended, “until the turn when he was fanned a little wide. I thought we had a chance at the eighth-pole. But you have to give that filly credit. She’s a great one.”
Woolley did say the Belmont “is next for us.” And Smith, fully aware that Belmont — at 1 › miles — is 5/16th longer than the Preakness, did say, “If we could have gone another sixteenth of a mile, I think he would have tackled her.”
Asked if he would like to be in Bird’s saddle for the Belmont, Smith said, “Anyone would.” As convinced as the Rachel Alexandra camp was that she had proven herself — “Emphatically,” said her trainer, Steve Asmussen — Mine That Bird’s people were confident that Bird erased contentions that his Derby victory was a fluke.
“He’s a tough little dude. He worked his way through there and kept on trying,” Smith said. “Honestly, he’s one of the best I’ve been on.” Trainer Bob Baffert, whose Pioneerof the Nile, second in the Derby, was a disappointing 11th, proclaimed Rachel Alexandra to be “awesome . . . amazing. She took the heat and kept on going. And the Derby winner is for real.”
Trainer Gary Stute, sixth with Papa Clem, said Rachel Alexandra “rode perfect. She’s pretty super right now, I’ll tell you that. Mine That Bird ran a big race, too; you’ve got to give him credit.” Papa Clem’s jockey said he “knew Rachel Alexandra was going to win, but she was great. They went so fast early, but she still was going at the end.”
Rachel Alexandra owner Jess Jackson said that “either horse could have won. It was great for racing having them compete. Two champions. I would’ve been just as proud is she had been second. Of course, I prefer to win, but the spectacle of having them race against each other is good for the sport.”