11/13/2009 12:00AM

Orientate Express an overachiever


Orientate Express is becoming a bit of a giant-killer in the Southwest. He has upset a pair of odds-on favorites in stakes in Oklahoma and New Mexico in his last two starts, and next month will get the biggest test of his career. Trainer Kelly Von Hemel said Orientate Express is being pointed for the $200,000 Distance Championship at Zia Park on Dec. 6.

Last weekend, the horse won the track's prep for the race, the $60,000 Veteran, taking down Song of Navarone, the 3-5 favorite off a series of competitive efforts in major stakes in Southern California.

"I didn't know if we could beat that horse," Von Hemel said. "He's a very nice horse. I thought we could compete with him. I didn't know if we could outrun him. We were pretty happy. He ran real big."

It's not the first time. Orientate Express was up for a neck win over 3-5 favorite Steve's Double in the $150,000 Remington Green at his Remington Park base Oct. 11. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 90, and the number was his best until the 93 Beyer he put up in the Veteran. The Green was run on turf and the Veteran on dirt, and Orientate Express's surface versatility makes for lots of options for Von Hemel.

"He's a joy, because I don't think it matters," he said of the horse's surface preference. "I would say his turf races might be a little better than his dirt races, but I don't see a whole lot of difference one way or the other."

Orientate Express, who is 4, set the pace for most of the Veteran but stalked in the leaders in the Green. He races for Prairie Lane Farms.

Mine That Bird back in New Mexico

Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird has returned to his New Mexico base and is getting some time off following his ninth-place finish in last weekend's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. He is settled in at a Roswell training center facility owned by Mark Allen, who races Mine That Bird in partnership with Leonard Blach.

"He's home at Double Eagle, turned out," said Chip Woolley, who trains Mine That Bird. "We're going to rest him for a while, probably get him back up the first of the year."

Woolley said Mine That Bird's campaign for 2010 will begin to be mapped out when he resumes training. The plan is to keep the horse on dirt, on which he won the Kentucky Derby and also finished second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes.

Mine That Bird, a winner of more than $2 million, earned a Beyer Figure of 95 in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which was run over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride.

Oaklawn opens stable area Monday

Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., will begin receiving horses in its stable area on Monday, with the first day of training at the track scheduled for Nov. 23. The Oaklawn meet will begin Jan. 15.

Pat Pope, the track's racing secretary, said he received requests for close to 3,000 stall accommodations. Letters informing trainers of their stall allotments were sent out Friday.

"I see no reason why we won't fill the 1,500 stalls," Pope said of the capacity at Oaklawn.

Among those expected are Allen Milligan, the defending training champ, and Tim Ice, who trains Belmont and Travers winner Summer Bird. Steve Asmussen, the leading trainer in North America, is also expected to have a division in Hot Springs. He trains Horse of the Year candidate Rachel Alexandra, who will be the subject of a bobblehead giveaway at Oaklawn on Jan. 18.

* Horses shipping to Oaklawn from Texas will need to meet some additional requirements for entry into the stable area after several horses on a working ranch in south Texas tested positive for the tick-borne blood disease piroplasmosis last month. Racehorses are not considered at high risk, but several states have implemented additional shipping requirements for horses from Texas.