10/26/2010 3:21PM

Lukas looking to spring another Breeders' Cup upset

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mine That Bird will be looking to spring an upset in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – D. Wayne Lukas nearly pulled off one of the biggest surprises of his Hall of Fame training career when Decelerator finished second, beaten less than a length by Hilda’s Passion, in the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes last Saturday at Keeneland.

Decelerator was 73-1.

“I made a nice little bet on her because I thought she was coming into the race as good as she could be,” Lukas said early Tuesday outside his Churchill Downs barn. “I bet her win and place, so I guess I did okay.”

Lukas will be trying to take his upset bids one step farther when the Breeders’ Cup championships are renewed Nov. 5-6 at Churchill. Foremost among the Lukas prospects is Mine That Bird, the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner who has not been particularly effective since being transferred in May into the care of the 75-year-old trainer, having finished well-beaten in all three 2010 starts. Lukas has pre-entered Mine That Bird for the $1 million BC Dirt Mile on Nov. 6.

“I’m trying to draw on 55 years of experience and pull this one out of my hat,” said Lukas, the all-time leading Breeders’ Cup trainer with 18 wins. “I’ve got the horse where we want him, physically. It’s the mental part I’ve been having some trouble with.”

Being a Derby winner returning to Churchill, and considering he’s trained by Lukas and will be ridden by Mike Smith, it’s unlikely that Mine That Bird will be as high as 73-1, assuming the 4-year-old gelding makes it into the big field expected for the Dirt Mile. Pre-entries and prospective lineups for all BC races were to be released Wednesday.

“I’m hoping that by shortening him up to the mile and getting him back in a race over this racetrack, which he obviously loves, we might be able to surprise some people,” said Lukas, whose longest-priced BC winner was Spain at 55-1 in the Distaff (now Ladies’ Classic) in 2000 at Churchill.

Lukas has two other BC pre-entries: Tidal Pool in the Filly and Mare Sprint and Hamazing Destiny in the Sprint, both of whom also figure as longshots.

Sweet August Moon tries dirt in drill

Tuesday morning might have been a relatively quiet one at Churchill Downs for most trainers with horses in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. But it certainly was an important one for the California-based Brian Koriner who sent out his two Cup hopefuls, Sweet August Moon and California Flag, for important and purposeful works after the renovation break.

Sweet August Moon, who runs in the Filly and Mare Sprint, was the first of the pair to go, working five furlongs in 1:00.80 under exercise rider Colleen Hartford. The drill marked the first time Sweet August Moon, who has made all 18 career starts on grass or synthetic surfaces, had ever worked over dirt.

“I was pleased with the way she worked, although she did get a little tired at the end, which surprised me because horses usually are fitter when they go from Poly to dirt as she is doing,” Koriner said.

California Flag is the defending Turf Sprint champion, having led throughout to post a 1 3/4-length triumph at Santa Anita in 2009. But he’s won just once in four starts this season and is coming off his poorest effort in quite some time when finishing 11th in Keeneland’s Woodford Stakes earlier this month.

Koriner wanted to see a little of the old California Flag during his five-furlong trial on Tuesday and got just that when watching the 6-year-old zip his opening eighth-mile in just under 11 seconds and complete five furlongs in 1:00.80 around the dogs under Hartford.

“I’m hoping his last race can be attributed to him not liking the sandy surface at Keeneland and I wanted to put a good work into him today to make sure he was okay coming out of that race,” Koriner said. “We tried to get him to relax in the mornings after he got back from Dubai and he won a stakes at Del Mar from off the pace, but perhaps that wasn’t a good idea because I haven’t seen him show the same speed lately as before. Today’s work was by design, to get him back in the bridle and to get him back to his old self.”

Stately Victor set for Fayette

Stately Victor will be returning to the scene of his greatest race when he runs Saturday in the Grade 2, $150,000 Fayette Stakes, the closing-day feature at Keeneland in Lexington.

Stately Victor won the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland in April, and after three off-the-board finishes in dirt races, he returned to Polytrack to dominate the Ontario Derby at Woodbine in his last start Sept. 25.

The Fayette comes three days before Kentucky voters will decide whether Jack Conway, the co-owner of Stately Victor, will be the next U.S. senator from this state. Conway, a Democrat, has been waging a highly spirited campaign against his Republican opponent, Rand Paul, to replace the retiring Jim Bunning in the Senate. Conway co-owns Stately Victory with his father, Louisville attorney Tom Conway.

Keeneland officials were looking for 10 to 12 runners for the Fayette when entries were taken Wednesday, including Exhi, another standout 3-year-old on synthetics; and Dubious Miss, winner of the Ben Ali last spring over the Keeneland Poly.

◗ Besides the 14 Breeders’ Cup events on Nov. 5-6, Churchill will be offering six more graded stakes through BC weekend. Those races are the Grade 2 Pocahontas and Grade 3 Iroquois on Sunday, opening day; the Grade 3 River City on Nov. 4, the Thursday before the first BC card; the Grade 3 Ack Ack on the Friday BC undercard and the Grade 2 Chilukki on the Saturday BC undercard; and the Grade 3 Cardinal on the Sunday after Breeders’ Cup.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch