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Hey, what about me? Mine That Bird seeks respect
Associated Press

Kentucky Derby winner Mine that Bird is held by Kelly Dennington, ranch manager for Double Eagle ranch where the horse is kept after workouts at the Stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course on Thursday.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 5/15/2009 7:09 AM | Updated: 5/15/2009 7:10 AM

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BALTIMORE -- The fascination over Rachel Alexandra's participation in the Preakness has taken much of the attention away from Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who's been lumped into the same category with 11 other colts vying to defeat the favored filly.

Despite residing in the most prominent spot in the Pimlico stakes barn, Mine That Bird has been virtually ignored this week. Reserved for the Derby winner, Stall 40 has housed Triple Crown winners Secretariat, Affirmed and Seattle Slew.

But the current Kentucky Derby champion has barely created a buzz. Maybe it's because Mine That Bird was a 50-1 longshot at Churchill Downs and is not considered to be a strong contender to win the Triple Crown.

Heck, even his jockey ignored him. Calvin Borel, who rode Mine That Bird to a 6¾-length victory in the Derby, has opted to climb aboard Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who rode Giacomo to victory in the 2005 Derby, will climb aboard Mine That Bird at Pimlico on Saturday.

"This is a business, and Calvin has to watch out for himself," Mine That Bird trainer Bennie "Chip" Woolley Jr. said Thursday. "It was his choice and I respect his choice."

With Borel aboard, Rachel Alexandra has cruised to five straight wins. Still, his decision to leave the only potential Triple Crown winner in the field has created a bit of a stir in the horse racing industry.

"I mean, that's unheard of. There's no way in history you ever heard of a jockey ever leaving a Kentucky Derby winner," said jockey Robby Albarado, who has won more than 3,000 career races. "I mean, he has a shot at winning the Triple Crown on Mine That Bird. ... I'm sure he feels that Rachel Alexandra is the best horse he's been on."

Woolley isn't jealous about the praise being foisted onto the filly. In a way, he's thankful.

"She's a great mare. I respect her a lot, and she deserves a lot of attention. That's fine by me," he said. "I don't think about it. I'm a quiet guy. I like to be in the background."

Although Mine That Bird has been overlooked, it's not been difficult to find Woolley at Pimlico. He's the guy on crutches (he broke his right leg in a motorcycle accident two months ago), wearing a black cowboy hat and sporting a fu manchu mustache. His technique is old school, too: He shipped his horse by van from New Mexico to Kentucky for the Derby, then loaded the colt into a trailer and drove from Kentucky to Baltimore on Tuesday.

Is that such a bad thing?

"It doesn't matter if he wears a cowboy hat or if he vanned the horse. I used to wear a cowboy hat and van my own horses. I started the same way," said trainer Bob Baffert, a Hall of Fame nominee. "He did a good job and nobody's giving him any credit for it. I think the horse is legit. You can't throw him out."

Baffert should know. His entry in the Preakness, Pioneerof the Nile, finished a distant second in the Derby. Yet no one's talking about a rematch; rather, the conversation outside the stakes barn this week always seems to turn toward the filly.

"You know what's really been lost in this whole thing? Chip Woolley has not gotten any credit," Baffert said. "This horse is a Canadian champion. You don't win the Derby with a bad horse. He did a good job bringing the horse in there."

Woolley will be back in the spotlight if Mine That Bird duplicates his Derby performance at the Preakness, but he's already relishing one of the benefits of winning at Kentucky: A place for his horse in prestigious Stall 40.

"It feels like you're a piece of history. It's kind of cool," he said. "The first Preakness that I can really remember, Secretariat won. So it's kind of cool, a neat thing."

Regardless of how his horse fares Saturday, Woolley won't have reason to complain.

"No matter what happens now, you've got the Derby and you'll always have it," he said. "If you can win this, it would just be gravy on the plate. The Derby solved the horse's future. He's got the Derby in the sack. Winning this would be nice, but it's not something you have to do."