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Jenny Kellner is an award-winning journalist and educator who has written about horse racing for more than 20 years. She has been a media specialist with NYRA for the past four years.

Mine That Bird: The Real Deal

Sunday, May 17, 2009

BALTIMORE – It was maybe an hour or so after Preakness heroine Rachel Alexandra departed Pimlico Sunday morning and on her side of the stakes barn, now virtually empty, Chip Woolley was balanced on his crutches, watching closely as Mine That Bird’s groom jogged the little gelding down the shedrow.

“What a neat little horse,” said the trainer as the Preakness runner-up bounced towards him, head up, ears pricked, as eager as if he were about to get a mint or a carrot.

“He doesn’t look like he ran hard at all,” I said.

“That’s because he don’t waste anything,” said Woolley. “Not around the barn, not when he trains, not in the post parade …. he saves it all for the race. And then, he only runs for a half-mile. He’s held up well.”

“How about you? How are you holding up?”

“In the morning when I get up, I feel fine, but by the end of the day, I get tired,” he admitted, propping his crutches against the wall and settling into a canvas director’s chair. “It’s been an enjoyable experience that would have been more enjoyable if I didn’t have a broken leg. But it’s been great.”

True enough. A week ago, Woolley came to Baltimore with a Kentucky Derby winner that everyone said was a complete fluke, nothing more. He leaves Monday with a racehorse that everyone now realizes is the Real Deal.

“That’s the most satisfying thing,” he said. “No one can question his ability. In the Derby, he ran past 18 of the best horses around in a quarter-mile. He did the same thing Saturday – made a huge move and ran hard, just didn’t get there.”

By now, Mine That Bird was outside, dragging his groom around in the drizzle as he munched away on the grass. There was no sign of the horde of people which had thronged the pavement by the stakes barn in the official Post-Preakness Party (a far more lively crowd than the alcohol-free group in the infield); in fact, the only other trainer around was Larry Jones, wrapping things up as he prepared to ship back to Delaware Park with 10th-place finisher Friesan Fire.

“He moved way up off the Derby,” Jones said to Woolley with a wicked grin. “He got a 43 Beyer in the Derby; hell, yesterday he must have gone all the way to a 60, maybe even a 61.”

Woolley has been kind of quiet around the barn, feeling, as he put it, a bit like “an outsider” in amongst the Bob Bafferts and D. Wayne Lukases and Todd Pletchers, but Sunday morning with Jones he was as relaxed as could be. He doesn’t smile much, but with his sunglasses off, you can see the laugh lines around his eyes and you kind of get the idea he’s going to have a great time in New York with this horse.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s a great, historic place to run a great, historic race. The big, sweeping turns, the wide track – it should suit my horse well. Actually, running a mile and a half on a straightaway would suit him best.”

I can’t wait.

Comments :

  • Jimmy Powell | May 26 2009 08:15 AM

    Goooo Bird Man ! !! ! If she runs ( and I hope she does ) I don't think she can handle the distance ? ? ? No body is talking about that . Bird Man was bread for the mile and a half. And I think when he catches her on that loooong stright away and looks her in the eye, shes ganna break . Bird Man by TWO ! ! ! JImmyP

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  • sizzle | May 23 2009 04:14 PM

    It is what it is!!! Give RA credit, it was not the horses choice not enter in the Ketucky Derby@@@ Her old owner did not want to run her with the boy's!!! She just ran back to back races by winning the Ketucky Oaks by more then 20 lenghts!! I thinks she deserves to be a little tired by the end of the Preakness!!I think she would have been running for the Triple Crown if her old owner had been more OPEN MINDED!!I think with horses it does not matter what sex they are?? Horses that Love to run just run!!!It's the same with taking a 4 million dollar horse and running them with a cheaper horse, do you think they know how much someone paid for them??? I give RA and Mine that Bird, Musket Man and the rest, all the credit in he world, because all they get is a good meal,some carrots and everyone flashing cameras!! The only thing I wish for is they have a safe trip and no horse or Jockey gets hurt at the Belmont!!

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  • ruffian | May 21 2009 04:41 PM

    If fillies are going to compete against colts, then they should carry the same weight. This would require them to train and race with higher weights to be competitive. I don't see the industry changing this in the near future, so when a filly competes against males they will probably be given less credit for their accomplishments. Even though fillies usually carry more weight than they are used to in these contests, which is a disadvantage to them, it is relative weight in a race that tells the tale and I think that if the weights were equal, no one could put an asterisk next to the accomplishments of these great fillies.

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  • sizzle | May 21 2009 02:33 PM

    Beyer this Beyer that!! Not one person gave "Mind that Bird" a second look until he beat the field and won the derby!!! RA just won the Ketucky Oaks by 20 lenghts!! I realized she race against fillies, but no matter who she ran against that took alot out of her!! I believe with a good rest, she can beat alot of the so called great horse!! Yes, Mind that Bird is peaking and he seems like he Loves to go longer distance, but give the filly credit she was tried, but she race across that finish line and won!! No one knows what any horse is capable of doing until they run them and sometimes their breding says they are no good on grass but they take to it, or they can ony get 6 furloughs but they like the mile better!! They are horses not humans and they are bred to run!! So if she decides to run we will know!! If not we will have to wait to they meet again or Maybe not!!

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  • Getz | May 20 2009 11:29 PM

    RA is a great horse, everyone can see that but she would not win the Belmont if the owners are foolish enough to enter her. Because of this, she should not be given horse of the year accolades just yet. When you look back at horses that have have won triple crown races in the past, you see the kinds of beyers they were putting up. Horses like Siver Charm, Afleet Alex, Curlin and on and on were all putting up numbers like 115 - consistently. I would love to have seen Afleet Alex (Absolutely Should have been a Triple Crown winner) run against the likes of RA. He would have annilated her. So would all the others. Mine That Bird, who wasn't even three when he won the derby, is just getting good and he will hit peak form in the Belmont at the distance that is taylor made for him. With all due respect to RA, she should turn the other way, get some rest, and then find another spot later in the year. If the good ones start showing back up, like I Want Revenge and Quality Road, RA should look the other direction and thank her lucky stars that she never had to meet any of the true greats.

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  • Footlick | May 20 2009 07:13 AM

    The trip cost Bird the race, but Rachel's versatility and speed won her the race. Sex allowance has been around for so long it shouldn't be an argument anymore. If it was such a big advantage more fillies would be winning these races. Nobody uses that argument when 3 yr old fillies win the Arc. Nobody cries sex allowance. Many of the fillies who won were just rated superior to the colts. I don't put Rachel Alexandra in the same category as many of our great fillies here or in Europe. I've seen too many fillies come here from Europe and dominate colts. Dahlia, one example, was dominant here but was rated lengths behind Allez France in Europe even though they both regularly beat colts. Give Rachel credit that she ran fast fractions and held on. But she was a tired horse at the end of the Preakness. But don't use the sex allowance as the reason she won. She won because she is talented and versatile and could capitalize on both.

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  • zara | May 20 2009 07:07 AM

    Jenny, How sad it would be if Rachel Alexandra's Owners put her in the Belmont Stakes.She has proved to us all that she is grand,and it's obvious that she ran very hard.To want to showcase her in the Belmont Stakes just for his own personal delight would be inhumane.Even if she were to win or put up a good fight,she would have nothing else left in her.What a sad day that would be for the industry.Is it worth the price?

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  • ASHRA | May 20 2009 12:02 AM

    What is a guy like Chip Wolley to do given the fix he's in? He's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. The gods have conspired against him with Mine That Bird. He knows that he has probably the best horse for The Belmont, but his chosen riders are backing away. He can only keep smiling and wait patiently for an opening. It couldn't have been for money why Bo-rail skipped off Bird for Rachel: he made more in the Derby than in the Preakness. And why did Mike Smith decide to opt for a less primier event than the world famous Belmont Stakes? Could it be that he doesn't want to be blamed for anything other than a win in the Belmont? Well, it doesn't matter! Mine That Bird will carry to victory, whomever his jockey turns out to be. If Rachel doesn't run in the Belmont, and if Crafty Calvin comes back to apply to ride 'the Bird', I wonder what some of his excuses will be: "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse; the devil made me do it; I didn't know what I was doing, I was temporarily insane, but I'm good now; a gypsy woman bewitched me and told me to do it." Whatever his excuses are going to be, he'd better prepare for this quiz. I suggest he obtains a Cliff Notes book of workable excuses. Maybe halfway thru, Chip may be worn down and relent: " O'k, Cal, you're back on, just leave me alone, already!" What do you think, Jenny?

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  • toni tyler | May 19 2009 03:37 PM

    oh, by-the by, Afleet Deceit Carried 117 lbs. against Rachel at 121 lbs. and Rachel won by 8+ without being hit. (read previous post) so, she wins with more weight than opponents all the time... give her a couple of weeks training at 126 lbs and we'll see. Post Position Dictates More Races Than Any Weight Handicap. On Turf, a Jocky changes the odds (some Riders just don't do well on Turf.)

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  • toni tyler | May 19 2009 03:24 PM

    DerbyweekDave- what i was saying to Bear was "Trade Posts and i'll Trade Weights" in other words, no Colt has won from post 13 and if Bird had the 121 lbs -but- was In the Never Won Post 13, then Rachel Alexandra would have wiped them up carrying 126 lbs... Now, i too would add an asterisk- IF Rachel had been in Post Position #2... the 13th post Made Up For ANY weight advantage...

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  • Derbyweekdave | May 19 2009 02:24 PM

    Hey Toni. I agree with you that RA needs to chill after her victory in the Preakness. She held on with a nice ride from Calvin. But she got the 5 lb weight advantage for being a filly, not for the post position. Whether Bird would have caught her with equal weights, we'll never know. I just wish Mike Smith had not kept running Bird up into traffic, had swung Bird wide and let him run. Also, Musket Man definitely does not carry distance breeding, has actually outrun his breeding in the the first two leg of the Triple Crown. On to the Belmont, for probably the third different winner in three races.

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  • toni tyler | May 18 2009 07:23 PM

    BEAR- The 13th Post Has Never Won The Preakness Stakes! That is why she got the weight break... If "Mind That Bird" had the 13th or 14th Then He too would have had the weight break. So, don't think that she would have been caught at 1-3/16, now Maryland Tracks are ill-kept and Narrow, She was also bumped hard by The Bird when he challenged, not the gentleman or "Class" of which you wrote-- Plus, "Musket Man" (a true Distance Colt) would have beat both of them at "Belmont's Wide 1 1/2 !" i wish Rachel Alexandra had 'skipped' The Preakness Stakes and run The Belmont but now she needs to 'chill' and enter G1-Stakes at her distance (1-1/8)

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  • Bear | May 18 2009 06:19 PM

    Nothing against the filly, but the 5 pound weight advantge given to her in the Preakness looks to be the difference of her getting caught in the streach by Mind That Bird! Talk now is the filly is horse of the year! Horse of the year with a weight advantage that is!!! The trainer, and those around Mind That Bird are taking it well, they got class!

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