05/18/2010 11:00PM

Mine That Bird goes to Lukas

Barbara D. Livingston
"It's pretty tough to have one like that taken away," former trainer Chip Woolley said. "I guess if I'd have won the Triple Crown I'd have gotten to keep him."

Mine That Bird, the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, left New Mexico on Wednesday morning bound for Churchill Downs, where he will be trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Leonard Blach, a co-owner of the gelding, said Wednesday.

"He left here in a van at 9 o'clock this morning," said Blach, who owns Mine That Bird with Mark Allen. Blach said Allen and Charlie Figueroa, Mine That Bird's exercise rider, accompanied Mine That Bird. "He should get to Churchill Downs on Thursday night," Blach said in a telephone interview from his Buena Suerte Equine Clinic in New Mexico.

Lukas replaces Chip Woolley, who trained Mine That Bird for his 50-1 upset win in last year's Derby. The move in trainers to Lukas from Woolley was first reported as a possibility three weeks ago by Daily Racing Form.

"It's pretty tough to have one like that taken away," Woolley said in a telephone interview. "I guess if I'd have won the Triple Crown I'd have gotten to keep him. I'll always wish the best for the horse. I guess I should be grateful for the opportunity to train him and win the Derby.

"Personally, I can't understand it. But I guess it's not for me to understand."

The last horse to undergo a trainer change after winning the Derby was Gato del Sol, who won the 1982 Derby for Eddie Gregson before being transferred to Charlie Whittingham late in the horse's career, which extended into his 6-year-old season. The most-famous trainer change of a Derby winner occurred with Seattle Slew, who was taken from Billy Turner, who guided Seattle Slew to a Triple Crown sweep in 1977, and transferred to Doug Peterson.

Asked why Mine That Bird was changing trainers, Blach paused for several seconds before finally saying, "I don't know how to answer that."

"We just thought it was time to make a change for the horse," Blach said, elaborating. "Last year, we basically did a one-horse stable, and we didn't think that was feasible this year, especially with the limited amount of races he's going to have this year."

According to Blach, Mine That Bird was out of training from last year's Breeders' Cup Classic until March 15. He has been training at Double Eagle Ranch, which has a five-eighth-mile track, for the past 60 days, Blach said.

"He needs more extensive training now," Blach said. "He has not breezed at all. He's just had slow gallops. Hopefully he'll be ready to run in 45 to 60 days. But that will be up to Wayne."

Blach said he and Lukas "have been friends since the years when he trained Quarter Horses in New Mexico."

"Mark was happy with him, too," Blach said. "He's a Hall of Fame trainer."

Lukas said recently that he has been friends with Blach "for about 35 years." He said Wednesday morning that he has been asked repeatedly over the last several weeks about rampant rumors of getting Mine That Bird to train, "but the only conversation I had with them was during Derby week."

"They said they would catch up with me again after I got back to Kentucky from the Preakness," Lukas said.

Blach said Allen still has some Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses based with Woolley in New Mexico.

"We haven't discarded Chip at all," Blach said. "He's done well for us. He's been a great ambassador for us. He took us to the Derby. It was a hard thing for Mark to do. They've been friends for years and years."

Woolley said he had "a lot of respect for Mark."

"I hope I represented myself and the owners well throughout," Woolley said. "I hope the horse goes on and wins lots of big races."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee