- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

— Mine That Bird didn’t win the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, his bid from the back of the field coming up one length short of Rachel Alexandra. That stretched the sport’s Triple Crown drought to 31 years.

But aside from the impressive filly, the real winner was Mine That Bird.

He hushed those who considered his Kentucky Derby romp a fluke, the product of a sloppy track and so-so competition.

He proved his Derby win wasn’t entirely because he got a dream trip along the rail with jockey Calvin Borel.

And he confirmed that a small horse with a ton of athletic ability can come back in two weeks with another great performance.

It’s why co-owner Mark Allen, trainer Chip Woolley and new rider Mike Smith were all smiles even though Rachel Alexandra, who ran wire to wire in her first try against colts, cancelled their date with history at the Belmont.

They knew Mine That Bird needed to follow his Derby win with a positive Preakness effort to gain respect.

Now it’s time to believe Allen and Woolley. They have a great horse.

“[The negativity] didn’t really bother me,” Woolley said. “But I’m really glad my horse stepped up to the plate today and put it on the line. Everybody saw that he’s a great colt.”

A great gelding who won’t be going anywhere if he’s healthy. Just like Funny Cide, the breeding shed isn’t in Mine That Bird’s future, so he’ll be at the Belmont, he’ll be in California, New York or New Jersey this summer and he’ll be ready to take on the older horses this fall in the Breeders’ Cup.

It’s one of the more remarkable recent stories in racing. Remember, this colt was a champion 2-year old - in Canada. Before the Derby, his only race against top competition was a dud - 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in October. And he placed second and fourth in his two races before the Derby at a track in New Mexico.

“He’s the greatest little horse I’ve been on,” Smith said.

Smith, Woolley’s choice after Borel gave up the assignment to ride Rachel Alexandra, met Mine That Bird for the first time Friday. But he had watched his previous races and knew the colt was a classic closer. He made one move late in the race, and that was it.

Mine That Bird was in last place after a quarter-mile. He was last after a half-mile. He was 11th with only 21/2 furlongs remaining. But then he took off and blew by Luv Gov, Tone It Down and Take the Points.

“He’s so well balanced,” Smith said. “He made all these little moves. He’ll go anywhere. But today, they were stuck to the fence.”

Traffic problems ultimately cost Mine That Bird a legitimate shot to run down Rachel Alexandra. Nobody moved away from the first few racing paths. The rail was closed.

Smith steered his ride to seven-wide, and again he took off around the turn.

“I wish we were going that extra 1/16ths,” he said. “I thought I had a shot, but I just needed the filly to falter just a little. But she kept trying.”

Said Allen: “If we don’t get packed in, it might have been a different story.”

With a furlong remaining in the Derby, Mine That Bird was in control; with a furlong remaining in the Preakness, Woolley said his heart was pounding.

But Mine That Bird only passed Big Drama and Musket Man in the final strides.

“At the eighth pole, I thought we had a shot, but it was doubtful,” Woolley said. “[Rachel Alexandra] powered on. But that’s going to my horse’s style [late rallies]. You’re going to see things like that happen from him.”

And if Rachel Alexandra is running in the same race, it should make for much-needed high drama. The filly’s owners might be included to dominate females, but if they run into each other at the Belmont or summer races like the Haskell or Travers, a great rivalry could develop.

“We’ve erased anybody’s question on his ability,” Woolley said. “It was a great horse race. You couldn’t have asked for more - that’s what this sport is about. We’re glad we ran at her.”

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