By Josh Cook
The last time we saw Mine That Bird the gelding was struggling to a ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic last November.
The next time we see the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner racing again might be this weekend at Churchill Downs.
Mine That Bird had a "bullet" workout on the track Monday and could return there for his first post-Breeders' Cup race this weekend.
With jockey Calvin Borel the 4-year-old had a "bullet" workout, covering five furlongs on a sloppy track in 59.80 seconds for new trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The horse had fractional times of 12.20, 24.20, 36.20 and 47.80 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.60.
"He's just blossomed out," Borel said. "How good is he? I don't know, but we're going to find out. I think he's a good horse. I don't care what anybody says, he wasn't a fluke."
Mine That Bird became the second gelding to win the Run for the Roses since 1929 when he pulled off the shocker as a 50-1 long-shot in '09. He went on to finish second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont, but he struggled in his final three starts of the year. He finished third in the Grade II West Virginia Derby, sixth in the Grade I Goodwood at Santa Anita and ninth in the Cup Classic on Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride surface.
In May of this year Mine That Bird was transferred from trainer Chip Woolley to Lukas, the Hall of Famer.
"I couldn't be happier," Lukas said. "Every step has been right down the line. I like the way that he's changing, mentally and physically. That's the big thing. We know he can run if everything's right. Physically he's so much stronger, he might be 150 pounds heavier than he was last year. And mentally he's really getting good.
"I told Calvin we needed to let him do it with no prompting today, just let him do it on his own. I told him I'd like to see him finish up and if he'd get it in a minute to 1:01, that would be about right. Once I turned him loose and I rode over by the rail to see how deep it was I thought, 'If he does that he's going to be really going good.' And then he goes 59-and-four."
It's possible that Mine That Bird could run in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race Saturday, or could race in the $175,000-added Grade II Firecracker Handicap on Sunday, the closing day of the 42-day Spring Meet at Churchill.
"We'd like to start him here," Lukas said. "I used that Firecracker as a backup. I know he's never been on the turf. I really don't want to ship him. I have the (Grade III $250,000) Salvatore Mile (on July 3) at Monmouth, but I'd like to just leave him in his own stall and try him. If he gets beat, this first one is a means to an end...I have no reason to believe he won't bounce back from this work. He does every one of them so easy. He has amazing efficiency of motion. I've had some pretty good horses that I thought could get over the ground. I don't know if any of them got over it lighter than he does."
A solid showing this weekend could put Mine That Bird back at Churchill in the fall, possibly at the 2010 Breeders' Cup.
Photo courtesy Churchill Downs