On a cool, wet May 3 morning in the barn area of Churchill Downs, the owners and trainer of Mine That Bird were basking in the limelight while still trying to absorb what had transpired the previous day when the 3-year-old gelding posted a stunning 6 3/4-length victory over Pioneerof the Nile in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Meanwhile, the connections of the horses that finished behind Mine That Bird were also still trying to absorb what happened, with few, if any, making firm plans for the May 16 Preakness (gr. I) at Baltimore.
While trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr., owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach, and jockey Calvin Borel were interviewed live on NBC’s “Today Show”, the stable star, who won the Derby at 50-1 odds, grazed peacefully outside Barn 42 as racing fans and media filmed video and took photographs.
“It’s hard to believe we come in here and actually won this thing,” said Woolley, wearing his trademarked black cowboy hat and leaning on the crutches that support his weight as a result of a broken leg sustained in a motorcycle accident. “It’s an exciting time. Right now it’s a little overwhelming… I had dreamed of coming to the Kentucky Derby, for sure. If you don’t, I don’t know what motivation you would have to be in the business. It’s the biggest stage. It may not be the biggest purse, but it’s the biggest stage. That’s the driving force in keeping you coming out here every morning, going through all the headaches and hassles that go along with training horses.”
Woolley, 45, said Mine That Bird came out of the 1 1/4–mile Derby without any problems, but was unwilling to commit to the Preakness which, at 1 3/16 miles, is the shortest of the three classics. The June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) is at 1 1/2 miles. “The horse came out of it super,” said Woolley. “It (the Preakness) wasn’t something that was on our radar, but we will decide today or tomorrow. We were looking to run the horse a little farther anyway. We will just have to see… The Preakness tends to be a little more speed-biased and I don’t know if that is going to fit our horse. There is no obligation (to run in the Preakness). What’s best for the horse has to come first.”
Noting that he did not get much sleep Derby night, Woolley said he has received many calls from old friends, quipping that “none who owed me money called.”
Woolley acknowledged that while the little gelding’s best running style is to be far back early and then make one winning move, he was concerned after Mine That Bird was shuffled back to last at the start of the Derby. “I wasn’t too high on my chances when they passed the grandstand first time and my horse was dead last. But my horse responded… the move he (Borel) made to the inside in the stretch was fantastic. Not many riders would have done that. They would have went around (other horses) instead of going to the inside. I thought he might go off at 100-1. But the horse leaves it on the track every time.”
Woolley reiterated that Mine That Bird, the champion 2-year-old in Canada last year, was purchased privately for $400,000 (with Taylor Made Sales Agent assisting in the transaction) primarily to race in his home base of New Mexico. Mine That Bird has now won five of nine starts and earned $1,791,581. Previous to his Derby win, the gelding had finished second in the Borderland Derby and fourth in the Sunland Derby, both at New Mexico’s Sunland Park.
If co-owner Allen’s comments are any indication, the Preakness is very likely in the plans. “I hate to leave Kentucky, but you bet (would like to run in the Preakness.) If he comes out of this race good, we will (run)… we will let the horse tell us what to do.”
Allen, who said he did not sleep at all Saturday night, said he would have been satisfied with “respectable” performance by Mine That Bird in the Derby and did not expect a victory. “We were coming down here mainly because we were invited and we wanted to experience the Kentucky Derby. We thought we would be sixth or better or maybe hit the board.”
Among other connections of Derby starters, trainer Gary Stute was the only definitely committing to the Preakness with Papa Clem, who finished fourth.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who said he thought runner-up Pioneerof the Nile was going to win when the field reached the quarter pole, was taking a wait-and-see approach on the Preakness, and would make a decision in several days while the colt remains at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Derek Ryan was also going to wait to see how third-place finisher Musket Man came out of the Derby before deciding on the Preakness. “The horse is fine. You want to win it, but at least we got a little piece of it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cindy Jones, assistant her trainer-husband Larry Jones, said Friesan Fire , who finished 18th as the Derby favorite, came out of the race with cuts and abrasions on at least three of his four feet and legs. He grabbed a quarter in the left front, had a cut on the tendon in the right front, and a cut on his right rear back foot. He also had some leg webbing, apparently from another horse, embedded in one of his hooves.
While she did not know what Jones or the owners would decide about the Preakness, Cindy Jones said all of the cuts were superficial and would heal quickly.
Here are some other comments from Derby participants, courtesy of Churchill Downs publicity department (finish of the horse is in parentheses):
CHOCOLATE CANDY (5th) – Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was on a plane Sunday morning jetting back to California, but his right-hand man – Galen May – was keeping a watchful eye on his Kentucky Derby runner Chocolate Candy, who had finished fifth in the mile and a quarter run on a “sloppy” track Saturday. “He was trying to bite me this morning, so you know he’s fine,” May said.
May said the horse had come back without any nicks or cuts and had no problem cleaning his feed tub Saturday night. He also noted that he was likely to head back to California shortly and train up to the Belmont Stakes on June 6. “His breeding and style say he should like that mile and a half,” May said.
SUMMER BIRD (6th) – K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman’s Summer Bird was scheduled to ship Monday morning at 5 a.m. to Louisiana Downs, according to trainer Tim Ice. “We have never thought about the Preakness; maybe the Belmont,” Ice said. “I have no interest at all in the Preakness because that track doesn’t suit his style of running.”
JOIN IN THE DANCE (7th), DUNKIRK (11th), ADVICE (13th) – Trainer Todd Pletcher reported some minor wounds, but no major damage, to Dunkirk, while stating at the same time that his other two competitors – Advice and Join in the Dance – had come out of the eventful renewal none the worse for wear.
“Dunkirk took the worst of it,” the five-time Eclipse Award winner said. “He’s got his share of nicks and cuts and he also grabbed a quarter on his left hind (leg). I think someone had to do it to him during the running. Where it is, it isn’t likely he did it to himself.
Pletcher said Dunkirk and his stablemate Take the Points would ship to his barn in New York at Belmont Park. Dunkirk’s next start was up in the air at the moment, but Take the Points, who was eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby but took a pass, would be prepared for a go in the May 16 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
REGAL RANSOM (8th), DESERT PARTY (14th) – Both of the Godolphin colts, Desert Party and Regal Ransom, were fine Sunday morning, said Henry Spiller, an assistant to trainer Rick Mettee. The colts are scheduled to be shipped back to Belmont Park on Tuesday. They are not being pointed toward the Preakness.
WEST SIDE BERNIE (9th), ATOMIC RAIN (16th) – George and Lori Hall’s West Side Bernie and Atomic Rain were scheduled to return to Monmouth Park on Sunday after their Kentucky Derby efforts. “They came out of the race fine,” Breen said. “We are going to regroup and see what happens, but we are not looking at anything in two weeks.”
GENERAL QUARTERS (10th) – Owner/trainer Tom McCarthy said that General Quarters came out of Derby 135 in good order, but with no plans to continue on to the Preakness. “The only excuse I can find for him was that he was not getting over the ground good,” McCarthy said. “I think we will go ahead and regroup and see what direction to go in. The Northern Dancer (on June 13 at Churchill Downs) is a possibility.”
HOLD ME BACK (12th) -- Elliott Walden, vice president and racing manger for WinStar Farm, said Sunday that Hold Me Back was fine and would be given a break. Walden wasn’t sure whether the colt would stay with trainer Bill Mott or be sent to the farm during his hiatus. “He’s good,” Walden said. “He scoped good and looks like he came out of it OK. We’re going to regroup and go from there. He’s had a pretty solid six weeks.”
MR. HOT STUFF (15th) – Things were quiet Sunday morning at Barn 41 where the 15th-place Derby finisher Mr. Hot Stuff had spent an uneventful Saturday night following his little-impact journey in the 135th Run for the Roses. “He was OK after the race; no cuts or bruises. He ate all his food last night,” said groom Martin Rodriguez, who added the dark Tiznow colt would be headed back to his Southern California base “in the next day or two.”
NOWHERE TO HIDE (17th) – The Nick Zito-trained Nowhere To Hide wasn’t feeling any negative effects on the morning after his 17th-place Kentucky Derby finish. “He came back perfect,’’ assistant trainer Stacy Prior said. “The jockey said after the race that he was just spinning his wheels out there.”
FLYING PRIVATE (19th) – The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Flying Private was reported to have come out of his last-place finish in the Kentucky Derby in good order Sunday morning. “The horse came back fine,” assistant trainer Gary Neece said. “He’s no worse for the wear.”