Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bird Looks To Take Flight In Belmont

Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird arrives at Pimlico with trainer Chip Woolley, eventually finishing second to Rachel Alexandra. With the filly undecided in regard to running in Belmont, Mine That Bird could be prohibitive favorite in Saturday's final leg of Triple Crown. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, as Rachel Alexandra made sure of that by becoming the first filly since 1924 to win the Preakness, holding off a late charge from Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. However, it's really been just fourteen years since the Triple Crown was last won; albeit in an unconventional fashion.

In 1995, trainer D. Wayne Lukas captured the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes with Thunder Gulch, who finished third in the Preakness; beaten less than a length by stablemate Timber Country, giving Hall of Fame trainer Lukas the Triple Crown with two different horses. Here we are in 2009, and jockey Calvin Borel has a chance to replicate Lukas' unorthodox success by winning the Derby, Preakness and Belmont aboard two different horses. Regardless of who he rides, Borel is sure to have the mount on the post time favorite, whether it is Mine That Bird or Rachel Alexandra.

Borel made history by riding against Mine That Bird, who he teamed with to capture the Run for the Roses to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, winning the second leg of the Triple Crown by a length over the aforementioned Derby winner. In yet another similarity to 1995, Mine That Bird would be the first Derby winner to capture the Belmont since Thunder Gulch fourteen years ago should the small gelding lead the field to the wire in the mile-and-a-half marathon.

"We're going to give Calvin the opportunity to ride him," said Chip Woolley, who trains Mine That Bird. Borel is the regular rider for Rachel Alexandra, and he would most likely take the mount on the filly if owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen decide to run her against the boys once again. If that is the case, Woolley has a contingency that he has yet to reveal. This time, Mike Smith, who rode Mine That Bird in the Preakness, will not be available due to a prior commitment at Hollywood Park.

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