While America’s 3-year-old sweetheart Rachel Alexandra is frolicking at the Jersey Shore Aug. 2 in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park, and a deep, well-matched group of colts gather in the Adirondacks for the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga, the winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) for the first time in history will be out in the Appalachians, showing off in front of the Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort crowd in the West Virginia Derby (gr. II).
Such is the nature of Thoroughbred racing on the first weekend in August – three big races at three racetracks. Whether one prefers the mountains or the ocean, for most of the contestants it will be their springboard to the Midsummer Derby -- the historic Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Aug. 29.
For Mine That Bird, who will face five opponents in the $750,000 race, Mountaineer is the latest stop in what has been one of the most unusual odysseys by any 3-year-old in memory.
For the folks in West Virginia, Aug. 1 will be “almost heaven,” as they witness the first appearance of a Kentucky Derby winner in their state.
And for Chip Woolley, the magical journey continues.
“He’s been training really well and is on the top of his game,” Woolley said. “The small field and lack of speed is a big concern with a horse like Big Drama in there. If Big Drama gets an easy lead, it’ll be harder to run him down, so we’ll just have to see how it shapes up.”
Ironically, it was just those concerns that prompted Woolley’s decision to run Mine That Bird in the West Virginia Derby, as opposed to the Haskell.
“When we made our decision we had no idea who was going where,” he said. “Monmouth has always been speed favoring and has a short stretch, and everything is against my horse’s style of running. We don’t know how this race will shape up, but when we made the decision; West Virginia looked like a better spot for my horse.
“We’ve done everything we can to have him 100%. I wouldn’t run him if I didn’t think was 100%. He’s had some sharp works and I feel he’s ready for a big effort. Even though we have the Travers coming up, you want to win them all and you don’t want to leave anything out there.”
Woolley said he’s happy to have Mike Smith back on Mine That Bird.
“We have a two-race commitment for this race and the Travers,” he said. "We’re glad to have him; he’s a Hall of Fame rider and makes good decisions. I thought he rode him well in the (BlackBerry) Preakness (Stakes, gr. I). The horse had a lot adversity, but he ran very well for Mike and just came up short. I’m very comfortable with him.”
In addition to Big Drama, Mine That Bird, who drew post 2, will face Iowa Derby runner-up Soul Warrior, three-time Canadian stakes winner Awesome Rhythm, and Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) runner-up Monty's Best, who has won both his starts this year in allowance company at Woodbine.
Big Drama, who breaks from post 5, looks to have much more speed than anyone in the field and should have an uncontested lead. The son of Montbook is coming off an impressive score in the seven-furlong Red Legend Stakes at Charles Town. He has finished first in six stakes in his career, but was disqualified from first in the Swale Stakes (gr. II).