The Brock Talk

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Funny Cide of Mine That Bird

Last year's Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands winner Mine That Bird (top photo) put in his first published work of 2010 Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs which should give racing fans yet one more reason to get a little excited. The diminutive gelding that took the Run for the Roses at 50-1 odds hasn't won since that historic victory and his bandwagon has become considerably lighter because of it. But now it appears he will make a run at returning to top level competition in a new barn at the track of his greatest victory.

Mine That Bird went three furlongs in 35.20 and is not expected to start until the Saratoga meeting begins in late July. According to reports, the work went as expected and for new trainer D. Wayne Lukas who has also indicated he is very happy with the gelding's fitness after the long lay-off.

After his Derby victory last year, Mine That Bird was a late charging second to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness (gr. 1), then third with a rare sub-par ride from jockey Calvin Borel in the Belmont (gr. 1). He then ran a pace-challenged third in the West Virginia Derby (gr. 2) against a group of horses he should have beaten anyway before breathing problems were discovered and required throat surgery in August. Mine that Bird went to Southern California in October to finish sixth in the grade 1 Goodwood before finishing the year with another dull effort in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. 1) in November.

To discount Mine That Bird as a one hit wonder may appear justified, but it may not be wise. The last gelding before Mine That Bird to win the Kentucky Derby was Funny Cide in 2003, who had a similar late 3-year-old campaign after Kentucky before returning to some success and much popularity in subsequent campaigns.

Funny Cide (right) won the Preakness but lost his bid for Triple Crown by running third in the Belmont behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted. He then finished third, beaten nine lengths, by Peace Rules in the Haskell Invitational (gr. 1) and like Mine That Bird, concluded the season with a ninth-place finished in the Breeders Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

But unlike Funny Cide, who took just 45 days off between the 2003 and 2004 racing season, Mine That Bird is looking at returning from eight months on the shelf.

By this time in Funny Cide's 4-year-old season, trainer Barclay Tagg had already seen Funny Cide win an optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park and the grade 3 Exclesior Handicap at Aqueduct. And Funny Cide was headed for the Metropolitan Handicap on Memorial Day.

Being in the Lukas barn may or may not result in more success for Mine That Bird, but I suspect the team will get the benefit of a bit more loyalty from the jockey colony. Mine That Bird had six rider changes from eight starts in 2010.

Jockey Jose Santos rode Funny Cide in 25 of the gelding 28 career starts. Ironically, however, Santos took off Funny Cide in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic to ride Valponi who he had ridden to victory in the Classic the previous year at Arlington Park. Julie Krone replaced Santos on Funny Cide in the 2003 Classic.

But unlike Bennie "Chip" Woolley Jr., who trained Mine That Bird last year, Lukas has a barn full of top horses and list of accomplishments that is measured in furlongs instead of paragraphs and page numbers. Let's just say he has enough skins on the wall to cause severe anxiety to any jockey or accompanying agent who might consider walking into the immaculate green and white Lukas shed row with intentions of resignation. And Lukas is likely to be quite a bit more scrutinizing and analytical in choosing a rider for Mine That Bird's return in the first place.

There are few criticisms as to how Woolley managed Mine That Bird's sophomore season and even some denunciations regarding the loyalty of owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach for taking the Derby winner from the trainer. But the Derby winner is now in the barn of perhaps the most famous and perhaps successful trainer of our generation and it is difficult to disparage the pursuit of oppportunity.

Before finishing his career in July of his 5-year-old year, Funny Cide would win more than $3.2 million including the grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in October of his 4-year-old season. As a 4-year-old he was also second or third in the grade 1 Donn Handicap, New Orleans Handicap (gr. 2), Massachusetts Handicap (gr. 2), Suburban (gr. 1) and Sartoga Breeders Cup Handicap (gr. 2).

Without doubt, Mine That Bird has much work to do to measure up to his gelded counterpart in terms of accomplishments and perhaps more importantly, popularity. But it's going to be fun to watch him try and I for one will be pulling for him.


John said...

I'll be pulling for Mine That Bird to. I loved this little gelding last year and felt he didn't get as much respect as he deserved. It bothered me to no end that he couldn't keep a rider on his back, especially after winning America's greatest horse race. I could understand the circumstances, but I still didn't like it. Hopefully when Mine That Bird begins his 4-year-old campaign, a solid rider will be there for him, and for keeps, or pretty close to it.

I've been wondering if Lukas will keep MTB at his style as a one-run horse, who makes his move late, or perhaps try and tweek the style a bit, maybe have him a bit closer to the pace. It seems with his running style last year, unless a jockey had a precise clock in his head, and could pull the trigger at the optimum moment, perfectly timed, it was going to be difficult for the horse to win. But Calvin sure got it right in the Derby, a breathtaking performance, which can never be taken away from the horse.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to hear MTB is returning to racing! I'm a big fan of the little guy with a great heart. Over the last several months, I was wondering what his fate would be. I, too, am bothered by the label "one hit wonder." Winning the Derby, coming in a closing 2nd in the Preakness, and finishing 3rd in the Belmont is certainly impressive by anyone's standards. Let's hope he proves all the naysayers wrong this season and hopefully a few more.

Unknown said...

Interesting question John about possibly tweeking MTB's running style. I would not think so, but a lot can change in a horse in the eight months following his 3-year-old year.

Glad to have some MTB fans. I usually hear from the naysayers on my pro MTB posts. Of course, better not speak to quickly.

Brent R said...

Mine That Bird won the Derby at 50-1! He shouldn't have won that race and has run up to his lousy level since.

Unknown said...

I am also pulling for MTB. As someone noted above to finish 1st 2nd & 3rd in last years TC races exceeds the careers of more than 99% of all TB's ever. If he returns to that form, he will win his share of graded races. We can use as many stars as possible in Horse Racing...and in my mind MTB is a star! Anyone who has anything negative to say about this horse is just looking to get a reaction and is not a true racing fan.

Best of Racing Luck to All, especially Mine That Bird!

Susie Blackmon said...

I too am a big MTB fan, and I enjoyed Chip Woolley as well.

Here's to even more success on the track for MTB.

Thanks for your great post.

Jean said...

I hope Mine That Bird shows all of the people that have unkind words to say about him that he's the comeback kid.
Let's give him some loyalty.

Jean said...

I hope Mine That Bird shows all of the people that have unkind words to say about him that he's the comeback kid.
Let's give him some loyalty.