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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

Mine That Bird became the toast of the American sports scene following his 50-1 last-to-first, upset win in the May 2 Kentucky Derby. The gelding graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, and jockey Calvin Borel visited the couch of Jay Leno on last Tuesday’s Tonight Show. But Mine That Bird has once again returned to his familiar role of underdog as he looks to capture the second jewel of Thoroughbred Racing’s Triple Crown, the $1.1 million Preakness Stakes from Pimlico in Baltimore. (NBC 4:30-6:30 p.m., ET)

Not only is Mine That Bird listed as the co-third choice in the morning line at 6-1 for the mile and three-sixteenths classic, he has lost his jockey to the early 8-5 favorite, the filly Rachel Alexandra. The day before the Derby, Borel guided Rachel Alexandra to a runaway, 20 ¼-length win in the Kentucky Oaks, which is the three-year-old-filly counterpart race to the Derby. Then Rachel Alexandra was privately purchased by a group led by Jess Jackson, who decided that his new purchase had the stuff to take on the boys, and Borel obviously agreed, choosing to keep the mount on the filly rather than the Derby hero. As a result, Mine That Bird becomes the first-ever Derby winner to lose his jockey to another horse in the Preakness. Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who shares New Mexico ties with Mine That Bird’s owners and trainer, will now inherit the Preakness mount.

“Calvin did a great job, but he also gave Mike…something to go by, because that’s the trip we’ve been looking for all along,” said Mine That Bird’s trainer Chip Woolley of his horse’s furious rally from the back of the pack. “Now, they see that he’s fired his very best races when he’s run that way, so it gives him something to gauge by going into this race.”

A large field of 13, including the top four finishers in the Derby, will compete in the 134th Preakness. Mine That Bird drew post position two, while Rachel Alexandra drew the far outside stall with post position 13. No horse has won from post 13 in 11 tries since 1909. Rachel Alexandra, with a win, would also be the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924, when Nellie Morse became the third filly to capture the “Run for the Black-Eyed Susans”. Fillies are 3-for-52 overall in the Preakness, with 49 of those starters having participated prior to 1940.
It is not at all uncommon for females to run against males in modern American racing, however. In 2008 alone, 254 female horses took on males in stakes events, with 29 of them emerging victorious.

The complete Preakness field, in post position order, is: Big Drama (jockey: John Velazquez, morning line odds: 10-1); Mine That Bird (Mike Smith, 6-1); Musket Man (Eibar Coa, 8-1); Luv Gov (Jamie Theriot, 50-1); Friesan Fire (Gabriel Saez, 6-1); Terrain (Jeremy Rose, 30-1); Papa Clem (Rafael Bejarano, 12-1); General Quarters (Julien Leparoux, 20-1); Pionerrof the Nile (Garrett Gomez, 5-1); Flying Private (Alan Garcia, 50-1); Take the Points (Edgar Prado, 30-1); Tone it Down (Kent Desormeaux, 50-1); and Rachel Alexandra (Calvin Borel, 8-5).
Post time for the Preakness is slated for 6:15 p.m. (ET).

Seattle Smooth will try for her fourth straight stakes victory in Saturday’s 34th running of the Grade II, $150,000 Shuvee Handicap for fillies and mares going a mile on the main track at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. Last August, the Quiet American filly won the Go for Wand at Delaware Park; the following month she scored in the Grade II Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Philadelphia Park, and last month she ran away with the Grade II Bed O’ Roses Handicap, winning by more than five lengths at Aqueduct. The only question remaining for trainer Tony Dutrow is whether she’ll tackle the course at Belmont with the same zeal.

“The `Big Sandy’ is not for everyone,” Dutrow said, referring to the Belmont dirt surface. “But she handled Saratoga well, she handled Aqueduct well, she handled Delaware and Philadelphia well. I’ve been very happy with her so far, I just hope she likes it.”

Although just six fillies and mares will go postward for the Shuvee, Dutrow doesn’t expect the short field will hinder his filly.

“She went seven-eighths last time in a short field,” Dutrow said of Seattle Smooth, who will carry top weight of 120 pounds. “I was taking a ‘Let’s just see how this goes,’ approach and she was in striking position the entire race. With a short field going a little longer, I don’t feel it’s an issue.”