07/04/2010 12:00AM

Mine That Bird all set for Firecracker

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The spring meet at Churchill Downs begins every April with the Kentucky Derby on everyone's minds. Rare is one that ends in July with the same kind of buzz.

And yet when the curtain comes down Sunday on the 42-day spring meet at Churchill, talk will invariably circle back to the Derby. That's because the 2009 Derby winner, Mine That Bird, will run in the closing-day feature, the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap.

D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Famer who assumed the training of Mine That Bird in late May, has committed to running the 4-year-old gelding in the $175,000 Firecracker, a one-mile turf race. Lukas had said earlier in the week that he and owners Mark Allen and Leonard Blach were "buying a little time" to determine whether the Firecracker would serve as a suitable trial for their main goal this summer, the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on Aug. 7 at Saratoga.

Lukas said he consulted Thursday evening with the owners and that they were in agreement that the Firecracker would greatly benefit Mine That Bird toward the Whitney.

Mine That Bird, unraced since finishing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita last Nov. 7 when still trained by Chip Woolley, was assigned post 2 as the 122-pound highweight in an overflow field. Calvin Borel, who has clinched his first-ever spring-meet title at Churchill, has the mount.

Lukas clearly has several built-in excuses in case Mine That Bird does not win Sunday. Not only would this be the first race for the gelding in nearly eight months, but he has never raced on grass, and the mile distance may be a bit short.

"This would only be a means to an end, anyway," said Lukas. "We just want to get a good, solid effort under our belt before we head up to Saratoga."

Mine That Bird will become the first Derby winner to return to race at Churchill since Giacomo finished fourth in the 2006 BC Classic some 18 months after capturing the Derby.

Other logical contenders in the 20th Firecracker include Tizdejavu and Wise River, with Attempted Humor, Euroears, and Skipadate also meriting consideration. First post is 12:45 p.m. Eastern, with the Firecracker, the 10th of 11 races, set for 5:26.