06/03/2009 11:00PM

Mine That Bird: From 50-1 to favorite


ELMONT, N.Y. - At the Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird was 50-1, the 17th choice in a field of 19. Few saw what was coming. Not Tom Durkin, who called the race for national television. Not even Chip Woolley, the trainer of Mine That Bird.

"The only person more surprised than me winning the Derby seemed to be you," Woolley, joking with Durkin, said at the post position draw Wednesday for the Belmont Stakes.

My how things have changed in just five weeks. After scoring his upset in the Derby, Mine That Bird was the third choice, at 6-1, in the 13-horse Preakness Stakes three weeks ago. But by the final leg of the Triple Crown, through both his performances and the attrition rate of many of his rivals, Mine That Bird has become the public's choice.

Both Mike Watchmaker, the national handicapper for Daily Racing Form, and Eric Donovan, the morning-line maker at Belmont Park, installed Mine That Bird as the favorite on their respective lines when a field of 10 3-year-olds was entered on Wednesday for the 141st Belmont Stakes, to be run Saturday at Belmont Park.

Mine That Bird, who drew post 7, is the 8-5 choice on Watchmaker's line. Watchmaker has Charitable Man next at 3-1, with Dunkirk the third choice at 5-1. Donovan has the same top three choices, but put them in a more narrow range, with Mine That Bird at 2-1, Charitable Man 3-1, and Dunkirk 4-1. The top two choices will start alongside one another, with Charitable Man breaking from post 6.

From the rail out, the field is Chocolate Candy (Garrett Gomez the rider), Dunkirk (John Velazquez), Mr. Hot Stuff (Edgar Prado), Summer Bird (Kent Desormeaux), Luv Gov (Miguel Mena), Charitable Man (Alan Garcia), Mine That Bird (Calvin Borel), Flying Private (Julien Leparoux), Miner's Escape (Jose Lezcano), and Brave Victory (Rajiv Maragh).

All 10 carry 126 pounds, and all are separate betting interests.

Mine That Bird will be the first starter ever at Belmont Park for Woolley. Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Charitable Man, is based at Belmont Park, and is 1 for 1 in the Belmont Stakes, having won it with Jazil in 2006.

"I hope to be 2 for 2," he said.

Trainer Nick Zito and owner Robert LaPenta, who joined forces to win last year's Belmont with Da' Tara, are back with Miner's Escape and Brave Victory, who drew the two outside posts.

"They haven't gone through the rigors of the Triple Crown races," Zito said.

D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time winner of the Belmont, also has two runners, Luv Gov and Flying Private.

"They all can run a mile and a half," Lukas said. "Some just take longer than others."

Flying Private and Mine That Bird are the only horses who will compete in all three legs of this year's Triple Crown. Of the 19 horses who ran in the Derby, only six are in the Belmont. Of the 13 who ran in the Preakness, only three are returning in the Belmont. The list of prominent defections includes the filly Rachel Alexandra, who won the Preakness, and Musket Man, third in both the Derby and Preakness.

The Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races at 1 1/2 miles, one lap around this facility's sweeping main track. The purse of the race is $1 million, with $600,000 going to the winner. The Belmont is the 11th race on a 13-race card that is scheduled to begin at 11:35 a.m. Eastern. Post time for the Belmont is scheduled for 6:27 p.m. It will be seen live on ABC in a two-hour telecast beginning at 5 p.m., which follows a five-hour undercard show beginning at noon on ESPN.

Mine That Bird arrived at Belmont Park on Wednesday after a short flight from Kentucky. He stepped off the van at 4 p.m. and then walked over to his temporary residence in Barn 18, taking in the whole scene - the new surroundings, reporters and photographers - without ever getting excited.

"He never turns a hair," Woolley said. "That's half the battle."

Mine That Bird, who returned to Churchill Downs after finishing second in the Preakness, was joined on the flight by Mr. Hot Stuff, who finished 15th in the Derby and then skipped the Preakness.

Mr. Hot Stuff is one of four horses - along with Chocolate Candy, Dunkirk, and Summer Bird - who ran in the Derby, then bypassed the Preakness to come into the Belmont fresh. Summer Bird had a busy morning at Belmont on Wednesday, galloping nearly a mile under exercise rider Chris Trosclair before blowing out through the stretch, after which he continued to gallop strongly until midway down the backstretch.

"His energy level is high right now," said Tim Ice, who trains Summer Bird. "If I can keep him like this the rest of the week, I'll be in good shape."

Summer Bird came out after the renovation break. Because of overnight rain, the inside part of the track was closed for training the first part of the morning, and orange traffic cones, known as dogs, were set up to prevent anyone from even thinking of going near the rail. But during the break, the cones were removed and the track was freshly harrowed.

"I wanted to give him a good two-minute clip down the stretch," Ice said. "I always have him do a two-minute clip the Wednesday before a race."

Summer Bird is adding blinkers for the Belmont.

"It should put him into the bit a little more," Ice said.

In the Derby, Summer Bird closed well while wide to finish sixth.

"He passed [10] horses. He probably thought that was enough to win. He didn't expect there to be five more," Ice said, laughing.

Both Ice and Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Dunkirk, said that the time off between the Derby and Belmont allowed their colts to recover from the Derby and put on weight.

"He's doing well," Ice said. "He's happy, healthy. The time in between races helped him a lot. Since he started his career, this is the most time he's had between races. He's always been mentally mature. Now he's catching up physically. He's added 150 pounds since the Derby."

Dunkirk, an attractive colt who cost $3.7 million as a yearling, looked slight the week of the Derby, but appears more robust now.

"I think he's done well since the Derby," Pletcher said. "He's not a horse who carries a tremendous amount of flesh."

:: BELMONT 141:

Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes

Post Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Chocolate Candy J. Hollendorfer G. Gomez 10-1
2 Dunkirk T. Pletcher J. Velazquez 5-1
3 Mr. Hot Stuff E. Harty E. Prado 15-1
4 Summer Bird T. Ice K. Desormeaux 10-1
5 Luv Gov D.W. Lukas M. Mena 20-1
6 Charitable Man K. McLaughlin A. Garcia 3-1
7 Mine That Bird B. Woolley Jr. C. Borel 8-5
8 Flying Private D.W. Lukas J. Leparoux 12-1
9 Miner's Escape N. Zito J. Lezcano 20-1
10 Brave Victory N. Zito R. Maragh 20-1

Odds by DRF national handicapper Mike Watchmaker