It had been nearly 10 months, but on the morning of May 21, 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird stepped back on the track where he became a household name in taking the Run for the Roses.
Owned by Mark Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch and Dr. Leonard Blach’s Buena Suerte Equine, Mine That Bird returned to Churchill Downs at 8 p.m. May 20 after a two-day van trip from Allen’s ranch in Roswell, N.M.
Instead of going to Barn 42 as he did for last year’s Kentucky Derby and where he stayed until leaving for the last time last year on July 24 for the West Virginia Derby (gr. II), however, Mine That Bird went to Barn 44 with new trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He was previously trained by Bennie Woolley Jr.
“The bigger challenge is with a horse with great potential that can’t run,” Lukas said in a statement shortly after Mine That Bird stepped off the trailer and walked around the shedrow. “We know this horse can run. He tailed off at the end of last year and now we can try to put him back on top.”
Mine That Bird closed out 2009 with a ninth-place finish behind unbeaten Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 7. Following the Breeders’ Cup, Mine That Bird returned to the New Mexico ranch and did not resume training until March 15.
“We just let him be a horse back at the ranch,” said Charlie Figueroa, Mine That Bird’s regular exercise rider last year and morning companion this year at Roswell. “When he started back training, he had a different attitude from last year. It was a little more of a taking care of business thing.”
Lukas liked what he saw of Mine That Bird when he arrived.
“He has been training at altitude, and he may be fitter than a horse coming from Lexington,” Lukas said. On the morning of May 21, Lukas had Mine That Bird jog on the track with exercise rider Arielle Witkowski in the saddle.
“I think he looks better than I have ever seen him. I am very pleased with what I see,” Lukas said. “He will gallop tomorrow morning.”
The Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be run at Churchill Nov. 6, is the ultimate goal for Mine That Bird this year and Allen is hoping the gelding has at least three starts before the World Championships.
“We will work backward from the Breeders’ Cup to make sure we look good here,” Lukas said. “I’m sure the Whitney (gr. I, Aug. 7) is going to jump out there and maybe the Suburban (gr. II, July 3) at Belmont could be another possibility. Then they’ve got the Salvatore Mile (gr. III, also July 3) at Monmouth Park, so there are plenty of options.”