05/20/2010 11:00PM

Mine That Bird settling into his new digs


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Mine That Bird pulled into the Churchill Downs stable gate Thursday evening and was soon bedded down in Barn 44, where four other Kentucky Derby winners have been stabled through the years with his new trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.

Lukas has signs posted at his stable entrance that list his Kentucky Oaks and Derby winners but joked that he won't be adding on the name of Mine That Bird, who won the 2009 Derby when trained by Chip Woolley.

"We can't take much credit," said Lukas. "But it is an opportunity, and I feel fortunate that they picked us to maybe bring him back to the prominence that he enjoyed here a year ago."

It was formally announced earlier this week that Mine That Bird was being turned over to Lukas by owners Leonard Blach and Mark Allen.

Lukas, the 74-year-old Hall of Fame trainer whose friendship with Blach began some 35 years ago, said he hopes to have Mine That Bird ready to run in about 60 days. The 4-year-old Mine That Bird has been in light training at Allen's Double Eagle Ranch in Roswell, N.M.

Friday morning marked the return to training at Churchill for Mine That Bird, whose van ride from New Mexico took about 22 hours -- 10 Wednesday and 12 Thursday, with a stopover in Tulsa, Okla., in between. He went out after the regularly scheduled harrow break for "just a light jog, a little something to let him get his feet under him," said Lukas.

Lukas said he would like to find a suitable allowance race for Mine That Bird to begin a season that ultimately would end with the Nov. 6 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill. Lukas mentioned races such as the Suburban at Belmont Park, the Whitney at Saratoga, and the Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park as possible targets in the interim.

Lukas won the Derby with Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996), and Charismatic (1999).

Mother Goose next for McPeek filly

Connie and Michael, the filly who was eighth as the second wagering choice when making just the second start of her career last fall in the BC Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita, made a smashing return to action Thursday at Churchill and will run next in the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont on June 26, said trainer Ken McPeek.

"She's been special from the beginning," said McPeek.

Making her first start in nearly six months, Connie and Michael led throughout to win a first-level allowance by 5 1/4 lengths Thursday, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 90. She was ridden by Francisco Torres and returned $2.60 to win.

Connie and Michael got a 95 Beyer Speed Figure in winning her career debut at Keeneland in October, after which McPeek and the filly's owner, Anthony Bonomo of the Brooklyn Boyz Stables, decided to try the Breeders' Cup.

"We aimed high with her last year, and obviously it was a lot to ask," said McPeek. "She had a little physical issue over the winter, so we gave her a little time, and she's really come back good."

Bonomo, a member of the New York Racing Association board of directors, lives in Long Island and also has a family home in Saratoga, "so taking the filly to run in New York is the logical thing to do," said McPeek.

The $250,000 Mother Goose is run at 1 1/16 miles around one turn.

Leparoux looking at delayed return

Julien Leparoux will be out of action longer than the week or two that was estimated Thursday morning by his agent, Steve Bass, after the Eclipse Award-winning jockey conferred with his physician Thursday afternoon.

"Now we're targeting the end of June for a return," said Bass.

Leparoux has been diagnosed with a compression fracture of the T-8 vertebra in his back and has been requested by his Louisville orthopedist, Dr. Ray Shea, to rest for at least two weeks. Leparoux was injured in a backstretch spill aboard Diva Delite in the Black-Eyed Susan on May 14 at Pimlico. He felt well enough to ride last Saturday at Pimlico and Sunday at Churchill before going to see Shea on Tuesday.

* Sunday marks another round of the "Who's the Champ?" handicapping contests at Churchill. Total prize money is $4,000, with $1,500 to the winner and a spot in the Horseplayer World Series next February in Las Vegas. Entry fee is $30 and limited to the first 400 entries, with a maximum of three entries per player. Registration is held every Sunday in the Champions Club Lounge on the second floor of the clubhouse.

* Thursday will kick off five straight live dates at Churchill because racing will be held here Memorial Day, May 31. To make up for what usually is a dark Monday, the track will go dark the following Thursday, June 3. Four-day weeks resume thereafter through the meet's end, July 4.