The Triple Crown trail for Mine That Bird was wild and wonderful. He can add to his legacy in a state that promotes itself the same way.
Mine That Bird kicks off an exciting weekend for 3-year-olds today, when he becomes the first Kentucky Derby winner to run in West Virginia. The gelded son of Birdstone faces five foes, including Clearwater owner Harold Queen's Big Drama, in the Grade II $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Racetrack in Chester.
Sunday, the other winners of the Triple Crown races, Rachel Alexandra (Preakness) and Summer Bird (Belmont), are set to start in the Grade I $1.25 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.
Mine That Bird trainer Bennie "Chip" Woolley said his closer enters the 11/8-mile race in excellent shape, his first start since finishing third in the Belmont on June 6. He starts from the No. 2 post with jockey Mike Smith. "He seems to be on top of his game," Woolley said. "But the small field is a big concern. (Big Drama) is the primary speed horse in the race. If he bounces away and gets a free lead, it's going to be harder to run him down."
Mine That Bird is high weight at 122 pounds, 11 more than Big Drama. The two met in the Preakness on May 16, when Mine That Bird finished second and Big Drama fifth. Woolley said a quick surface was a factor in not sending Mine That Bird to Monmouth Park. "The Haskell has always, always been a speed-biased racetrack, and that's not a racetrack that's going to set up very well for my horse," Woolley said.
All nine races on the Mountaineer program are stakes.
Monmouth Park increased its Haskell purse by $250,000, helping lure Rachel Alexandra, the filly on a seven-race win streak. She will be ridden by Calvin Borel and drew the No. 6 stall. The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro faces six males, including Tampa Bay Downs graduate Atomic Rain and Bunker Hill, trained by Oldsmar's Derek Ryan. The 11/8-mile Haskell, one of eight stakes on the card, is Race 13 (6:15 p.m., Sun Sports). "Raising the purse was a factor," Rachel Alexandra owner Jess Jackson said. "I would have loved to have all three (classic) champions back together, but maybe one weekend down the road."
MORE HORSES: Another race for 3-year-olds today is the Grade II $500,000 Jim Dandy (Race 10, 5:47 p.m.) in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. … Let It Rock has been entered by Oldsmar trainer Judi Hicklin in the $125,000 West Virginia Governor's Stakes (Race 7, 5:12 p.m.) at Mountaineer. … Oldsmar's Rosemary Homeister Jr. was the top Colonial Downs rider with 51 wins and $713,860 in purse earnings at New Kent, Va.; Downs trainer Kathleen O'Connell was third with 19 wins.
GREYHOUNDS: Derby Lane dog Julia Ww Garland is in today's 550-yard final of the $60,000 Bluffs Run Open (8:10 p.m.) in Council Bluffs, Iowa.