05/18/2009 11:00PM

Mine That Bird already back to work

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mine That Bird, here with trainer Chip Woolley looking on after his second-place finish in the Preakness, went right back to the track Tuesday at Churchill Downs after his 10-hour road trip from Pimlico.

Mine That Bird is the little horse that could. He just keeps chugging along, surprising everyone and making new fans every day with his remarkable resiliency. Even though he won the Kentucky Derby, took a long, 10-hour haul to Baltimore, ran second in the Preakness two weeks later, then took that same long haul in reverse on Monday, Mine That Bird was back on the track at Churchill Downs on Tuesday, jogging one mile as he took his first steps toward a start in the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 6.

"He's really bouncing and animated," his trainer, Chip Woolley, said by telephone Tuesday morning from Churchill Downs. "I'm real happy with him right now. He didn't lose too much weight in the race."

Mine That Bird finished second in the Preakness on Saturday afternoon, walked the shed row at the Pimlico stakes barn on Sunday, then arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday night. While many of his Preakness rivals - such as the victorious Rachel Alexandra - were still recuperating, Mine That Bird was ready to go on Tuesday morning. Mine That Bird jogged one lap around the main track the wrong way along the outside rail. Woolley said he would return to galloping on Wednesday.

"He likes to train," Woolley said. "He likes to travel. He's a special individual."

Mine That Bird has handled the travel well. It took an overnight 21-hour drive to get him from Sunland Park to Churchill Downs before the Derby. And then he spent the equivalent amount of time going to and from Pimlico.

"He rests, he eats, and he drinks his water," Woolley said. "He takes it perfect."

And in his races, he's fearless. Mine That Bird came through a narrow opening in the stretch of the Derby, then rallied powerfully in the Preakness after encountering traffic trouble a quarter-mile from the finish.

"Mike said that horse is no fluke," said Brad Pegram, the agent for jockey Mike Smith, who rode Mine That Bird in the Preakness. "He said, 'This little sucker is the bravest horse I've ever sat on.' "

The jockey situation regarding Mine That Bird for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont remained unresolved on Tuesday, one day after Smith said he had a prior commitment at Hollywood Park on June 6 and would not ride in the Belmont.

Calvin Borel rode Mine That Bird in the Derby, then opted to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. Mine That Bird is definite for the Belmont, but no official announcement has yet been made by majority owner Jess Jackson on whether Rachel Alexandra will run.

That has put Borel in a tricky spot. His agent, Jerry Hissam, wants to get Borel back on Mine That Bird if - and only if - Rachel Alexandra does not run in the Belmont. But until a decision is made, Hissam is not about to give up the mount on Rachel Alexandra.

That, though, could cost him the mount on Mine That Bird. Woolley on Tuesday said "we haven't made any decisions" regarding a Belmont rider for Mine That Bird, but he said he did not want to wait much longer to commit.

Rachel Alexandra was not scheduled to return to the track to train at Churchill Downs until Wednesday.

Woolley was disappointed that Mine That Bird did not win the Preakness, but he was thrilled with his performance.

"There was a little more pressure to do well" in the Preakness, Woolley said. "It's all been a little overwhelming. It's amazing how a few days and two minutes can change everything.

"Once you've got the Derby in your pocket, though, the rest is gravy. If you don't win the others, you've still got the Derby."

Woolley said he had been to New York "a couple of times, but never to run a horse."

In addition to Mine That Bird, other expected starters for the final leg of the Triple Crown are Charitable Man, Chocolate Candy, Dunkirk, Flying Private, Miner's Escape, Mr. Hot Stuff, and Summer Bird. Rachel Alexandra and Luv Gov are possible.

If that field holds, only Flying Private and Mine That Bird will compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year.