An exuberant Calvin Borel expressed confidence that Mine That Bird will win the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) after working the diminutive gelding a half-mile in :50 on a warm, sunny June 1 morning at Churchill Downs.
“Perfect,” said Borel, who won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with the son of Birdstone trained by Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr. for owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach. “He’s ready. We’re going to win. No questions asked.”
The boast by the hard-working, likable Borel was similar to the one he made previous to winning the BlackBerry Preakness Stakes (gr. I) with Rachel Alexandra, with Mine That Bird finishing second with jockey Mike Smith in the saddle. Borel was freed up to ride Mine That Bird in the Belmont after owners Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick announced May 29 that the filly would bypass the third leg of the Triple Crown. Although her next start has not been announced, Rachel Alexandra also worked at Churchill June 1, getting five furlongs in 1:01 3/5.
Churchill clockers timed Mine That Bird, who was wearing his yellow Kentucky Derby saddle cloth when he to the track following the routine maintenance break, in fractional splits of :13 4/5, :26 3/5, and :38 2/5. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:02 1/5 and was ridden out six furlongs in 1:15.
“I didn’t go fast, but he didn’t need to go fast,” Borel said of the workout. “He gets more from galloping than he does from a work. He did everything the same, just like before the Derby.”
Borel, who departed immediately after the workout to fly to New York for a taping of the “David Letterman Show” that will air Friday, June 5, explained that Mine That Bird is not showing any of the signs of weariness displayed by horses who have had tough races such as the Derby and Preakness.
“After trying the Derby and (Preakness) they don’t come back bouncing like that,” Borel said. “That don’t happen too often. They come back a little tired. He’s bouncing right now. He’s a happy camper right now. He’s just getting better. Winning the Derby and the way he run the last time, he’s got more confidence. He will love the distance.”
Borel said he believes one reason the Derby and Preakness did not take much out of Mine That Bird is his patented late running style. “They might go a mile and a half, but he is going to gallop the first mile and only run the last three-eighths (of a mile).”
Woolley said he was pleased with the workout, noting that he wanted a half-mile in about :49 2/5. “He galloped out real strong,” the trainer said. “He looked real sharp to me.”
Woolley also echoed Borel’s assessment of how the gelding is doing.
“I was thinking last week he is training better right now than he did going into the Derby,” Woolley said. “He has held his weight really good and he came off the track today just dancing. He came back from Pimlico a little bit rattled, but he has settled in right here and is doing good."
With most experts speculating that the early pace in the Belmont will be slower than it has been in the previous two classics, Borel and Woolley agreed that it is hard to determine in advance how the race will play out.
“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen,” Borel said of anticipating how the Belmont will unfold. “When the gates break (open), I will read the race and will go from there. If we haven’t got much speed, we will liable to be close. If we’ve got speed, we will stay back. He’s got a good turn of foot.”
“You don’ want him as far back as he was in the other two (races) because the pace is going to be slower,” Woolley said of Belmont strategy. “We want him to run his same race, which will put him a little closer to the pace when they slow it down. It’s going to be hard to close in this, I’m sure of that. We’re not going to change his running style. We’re going to try to run the same race and see what happens. We will try to run our race and if our race is good enough, we will win, and if it’s not, we will run where we do. One thing about it, the distance suits my horse awful well. ”
Woolley said Mine That Bird will be flown to New York Wed., June 3, and that he did not see any benefit to training his gelding over the unique Belmont surface.
“My horse gets over the ground really easy… he just kind of bounces over the top of it,” Woolley said. “I really don’t have too much concern about it. If he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like it. Training him on it isn’t going to make him like it any better. It would just give him more time to hate it worse. I don’t believe in going up there and training and believing it’s going to improve his chances.”
In addition to the Letterman show, Borel will make an appearance on CBS the morning of Tues., June 2, and on Thurs., June 4, he, Woolley, and Gary Contessa will ring the bell to open trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Mine That Bird in the Belmont Stakes is the only mount scheduled for the jockey while he is in New York.