Roswell, NM – Mine That Bird is going back to Churchill Downs to join the stable of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Dr. Leonard Blach, the New Mexico vet who along with Double Eagle Ranch owner Mark Allen co-owns Mine That Bird, announced Lukas would be taking over the conditioning of the gelding.
Lukas is one of the marquee names in horse racing. He has saddled four Kentucky Derby winners, has won The Preakness five times and the Belmont four times. He’s a four-time Eclipse Award winner and is the only trainer to be inducted into both the quarter horse and thoroughbred halls of fame. He will replace New Mexico-based trainer Bennie ``Chip’’ Woolley, who became an overnight celebrity after Mine That Bird’s 50-to-1 win in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
"We just felt it was in the best interest of the horse to move on," Blach said. "We haven’t won a race since the Derby and we think it’s time to make a change. We have no hard feelings with Chip Woolley. We appreciate what he did. He’s been a great ambassador for us and we had a great year, something we may never experience again." Blach noted that in horse racing, change is often part of the game.
"It’s not unusual for owners to change trainers or trainers to change jockeys," Blach said. "Seattle Slew changed trainers and Gato Del Sol (1982 Kentucky Derby winner) changed trainers after the Derby." A case in point: Bob Baffert changed jockeys after this year’s Kentucky Derby favorite, Lookin At Lucky, finished out of the money. Baffert replaced Garrett Gomez, one of the nation’s top riders, with little-known Martin Garcia in the Preakness.
"It’s pretty tough to have one like that taken away," Woolley told The Daily Racing Form of the change in trainers. "I guess I should be grateful for the opportunity to train him and win the Derby." Lukas and Blach have a long history as friends. It started when Lukas was training quarter horses at Ruidoso Downs in the ‘70s and has endured through the years.
"He’s a Hall of Fame trainer and we don’t think we could do any better," said Blach. "He’s one of our kind. He sports a cowboy hat pretty well. We told him we wanted someone we could communicate with every day and he told us, `you will get more information from me than you want. "We felt it was going to be a perfect fit."
Mine That Bird finished second in The Preakness behind the undefeated filly Rachel Alexandra and third in The Belmont behind Summer Bird. Mine That Bird went on to finish third at the West Virginia Derby, out of the money in the Goodwood at Santa Anita and ninth in the Breeders Cup Classic.
Mine That Bird was turned out over the winter. Blach and Double Eagle Ranch manager Kelly Dennington say the extended rest was just what the gelding needed. "He’s in as good a shape now as he was last year when he went to the Derby," said Blach. "He’s back to his old self. It took some time to get there."
Dennington said if horses can smile, Mine That Bird looks like he’s wearing one these days. "The best thing we’ve noticed is how his mind is. He’s training so well, He’s relaxed and happy. You can tell his demeanor and his attitude are so much better than toward the end of last year. You can tell he’s a happy horse. He’s loving his job again."
In retrospect, say Blach and Dennington, Mine That Bird probably should have been rested after the Belmont or West Virginia. "He came back awfully tired from the Breeders Cup," said Blach. "It was a long year. He traveled over 8,000 miles last year by plane and trailer."
How soon Mine That Bird will return to competition will be up to Lukas. The gelding was expected to arrive in Kentucky late Thursday and Blach said he needs 45 to 60 days of training. Blach said they’re hoping to get Mine That Bird a race at Churchill before the meet closes early in July, but if not, he’ll likely run at Belmont or Saratoga.
"Our main objective is to get him ready for the Breeders Cup at Churchill in November," Blach said. Blach, who owns the Buena Suerta Equine Center in Roswell, NM, said Mine That Bird is fully recovered from a throat problem for which he underwent surgery last summer and from a "flake" in his right ankle. "I think he can run until he’s seven, eight or nine years old," said Blach. "If we manage him right and don’t drive him too hard, he’s good for several years yet."
If not, there’s always Hollywood. Blach says there’s a good chance Mine That Bird’s story will be told in a movie. All of the details haven’t been worked out yet, but filming could begin as early as this summer. So who would play Blach? Kris Kristofferson has been mentioned. "I don’t think we look alike, but we do have about the same attitude," said Blach. If the movie is a go, jockey Calvin Borel would play himself.
And what about the leading role? It’s a no brainer-Mine That Bird of course.