07/21/2010 2:39PM

Mine That Bird works hard at Saratoga

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mine That Bird works a stiff half-mile at Saratoga to train for the Whitney on Aug. 7.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Believing that Mine That Bird got nothing out of his race in the Firecracker Handicap on July 4, trainer D. Wayne Lukas on Wednesday put a stiff mile workout into the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner in preparation for a start in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 7.

With his regular rider Calvin Borel in the irons, Mine That Bird worked a mile – one full lap around the Oklahoma training track – in 1:40.14, picking up scheduled company for the final half-mile of the breeze.

Working shortly after 7:30 a.m., on a freshly harrowed surface, Mine That Bird, accompanied by Lukas on the stable pony, backed up to the quarter pole. He quickly turned around and broke into a gallop and started the work at the finish line. Daily Racing Form caught Mine That Bird in fractions of 14.09 seconds, 25.68, 37.37, and 51.18 for the first half-mile.

About 30 yards from the half-mile pole, Mine That Bird picked up a workmate, the 3-year-old Lukas-trained Northern Giant, and the two picked it up going the next quarter in 23.57 and the final quarter in 25.39. Northern Giant, who was on the outside, finished about a neck in front of Mine That Bird.

“I just wanted the horse to stay real focused through the stretch,” Lukas said. “One-forty, that’s good. That I think will set us up real good. He’s got another work coming, but this was his serious work.”

Lukas took over the training of Mine That Bird about two months ago. Unable to find a dirt allowance race to fill, Lukas opted to run Mine That Bird in the Firecracker Handicap on turf where he finished eighth as the surprising betting favorite.

In hindsight, Lukas said he was “embarrassed that I tried it.”

“I think it was a bad experiment, that’s why I worked him a mile,” he said. “I had to go back and get something.”

Mine That Bird has lost six consecutive races since upsetting the Derby at odds of 50-1. He was previously trained by Chip Woolley.

Lukas noted that a daily racing newsletter pointed out that on July 21, 1973, Secretariat worked a mile at Saratoga in preparation for the Whitney, a race in which he was upset by Onion.

This year’s Whitney appears to be coming up an extremely strong race, with Met Mile winner Quality Road, Stephen Foster winner Blame, and Suburban winner Haynesfield all expected to start.

Blame arrives at Saratoga

Blame, considered to be among the leading older handicap runners in the country, arrived by van at Saratoga from Keeneland shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday to continue preparations for his upcoming start in the Whitney.

Blame is coming off a victory in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. The win was the fourth in a row, all graded stakes, and sixth in the last seven starts for the homebred son of Arch. Blame, who captured the restricted Curlin Stakes last summer in his only previous start at Saratoga, figures to be the second choice in the Whitney behind Quality Road.

Blame was the last of trainer Al Stall Jr.’s Saratoga-based contingent to ship in from Kentucky.

“I kept him behind because I wanted to give him one more strong breeze at Keeneland before bringing him over here,” Stall explained.

Blame worked a bullet five-eighths in 1:01.20 at Keeneland on Sunday.

“He worked good and galloped out very strong at Keeneland on Sunday,” said Stall, who trains Blame for Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm. “He came out of the work well, and you can see he’s just full of himself coming off the van, despite just making a 14-hour trip. He’ll go back to the track here [Thursday] morning to jog, and he’ll still be able to get two works in over the track here before the Whitney, probably next Tuesday and then the following Monday, weather permitting.”

Howard returns to the Spa

Neil Howard has spent nearly every summer at Saratoga from the day he took his first groom’s job in 1970, so it was not an easy decision when Howard opted to turn his stalls in and skip the 2009 racing season at the Spa.

Howard is back in familiar surroundings in barn 13 on the main track again this summer and will waste little time tossing his hat into the ring when sending out Atoned in Friday’s James Marvin overnight stakes and his 2-year-old prospect Lou Brissie in Sunday’s Grade 2 Sanford.

“Naturally, I’m thrilled to be back,” Howard said. “Last year, some of our young horses were slow coming around and a few other things came up that by mid-July I realized, in my gut, we just shouldn’t be going that far up the Thruway. Fortunately, I was able to get stalls at Delaware where the racing just suited us a little better. We settled in there and while it was a quiet summer, we won a few races and got through it.”

Howard’s stable also went through another significant change in 2009 after his principal client, William Farish, downsized his operation. Howard began taking on outside clients to fill the void, among them Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stable for whom he trained 1990 Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Summer Squall. Both Atoned and Lou Brissie are owned by Dogwood.

“Summer Squall was a unique situation, since Cot had bought him from Mr. Farish’s Lane’s End Farm,” Howard said. “He then requested he be put back with me when ready to come off the farm, and Mr. Farish agreed. Other than that, my relationship with Mr. Campbell had been strictly social. But when he heard I was taking outside horses, he gave me a real shot in the arm, a real boost by sending me seven or eight Dogwood horses.”

Atoned, a son of Repent, is a multiple stakes winner whose most notable success was his victory in the Grade 3 Pegasus at the Meadowlands in his 3-year-old finale. Previously trained by Todd Pletcher, Atoned has not started since finishing a nonthreatening sixth on March 7 in Aqueduct’s Stymie.

“This race came up tough, but he needs to get started,” Howard said. “A mile and one sixteenth to a mile and one eighth is his best distance, but I don’t mind cutting him back to seven furlongs for his first race off the bench.”

Lou Brissie opened his career with a pair of wins, including Churchill Downs’s Grade 3 Kentucky Juvenile, before suffering his first defeat at the hands of the highly regarded Kantharos in Churchill’s Grade 3 Bashford Manor.

“He’s a nice little horse and hopefully when the distances stretch out, he’ll really come into himself,” Howard said. “That horse that beat him last time is a special animal, one that will draw some people when he runs up here.”

Robby Albarado is Kantharos’s regular rider but was aboard Lou Brissie for an easy half-mile work in 51.16 seconds Wednesday morning and will ride the son of Limehouse in the Sanford.

“When I called Robby’s agent and found out he was open for the Sanford, I said that’s definitely where we’re going because it meant Kantharos was passing the race,” Howard said. “And that’s a horse I want to duck for as long as I can.”

Stewart eager to run ‘Title’

Trainer Dallas Stewart is excited at the prospect of running his top 3-year-old filly prospect Seeking the Title in Saturday’s Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.

Seeking the Title was excluded from the starting lineup for the Kentucky Oaks earlier this spring and then stumbled and lost her rider in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan. She also encountered traffic troubles during her sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Acorn before rebounding with a game victory last month in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks.

“She’s had some bad luck earlier this year, but I think she’s a very good filly and she’ll love the distance, a mile and one eighth, on Saturday,” Stewart said. “Obviously, this will be a tough spot with Devil May Care in the lineup, but it will give us an opportunity to see where we stand with her at this point of the season.”

A field of eight was drawn for the CCA Oaks. From the rail out, it includes Bahama Bound (Javier Castellano); Lisa’s Booby Trap (Elaine Castillo); Seeking the Title (Albarado); Connie and Michael (Rajiv Maragh); Absenthe Minded (Garrett Gomez); Biofuel (Eurico DaSilva); Devil May Care (John Velazquez); and Acting Happy (Jose Lezcano).

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch