06/29/2010 11:00PM

Race fails to fill for Mine That Bird

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When the Saturday overnight sheet came out Wednesday at Churchill Downs, the most important news wasn't what was on it - even though a pair of Grade 3 races are on tap.

No, the most noteworthy development was what wasn't on the overnight: a $63,000 allowance race for Saturday failed to fill, meaning the 4-year-old debut of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird has been momentarily delayed.

"Darn, I don't really have a Plan B," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Wednesday afternoon. "I was kind of half-expecting it not to go, and I even told the owners I'd be surprised if they got five horses."

Churchill racing secretary Ben Huffman said he would have allowed the 1 1/16-mile race to be carded with just five horses, but only two besides Mine That Bird were entered.

Lukas, who assumed the training of Mine That Bird at Churchill on May 20 for owners Leonard Blach and Mark Allen, has maintained for weeks that the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on Aug. 7 at Saratoga is the primary immediate goal for Mine That Bird, and while a prep race would be ideal, it is not mandatory. Lukas has nominated Mine That Bird to the Firecracker Handicap, to be run Sunday on the Churchill turf, but the gelding has never raced on grass. He also said officials at Monmouth Park "had been hustling us" to run Saturday in the Salvator Mile, but he declined to enter that race.

Lukas said he would have to consult with Blach and Allen before deciding how to proceed. Entries for the Grade 2 Firecracker, a two-turn mile that anchors the closing-day card, were to be taken Thursday.

"I'd really like to run the horse out of his own stall," Lukas said. "I don't know anything about how the Firecracker is coming up, and obviously the horse has never run on the grass, so that's something you'd have to take into consideration. He is awfully sharp right now, and whatever we did, he wouldn't have to win it, just get a good effort. I really don't know what we're going to do."

Mine That Bird has had six workouts at Churchill since coming under the care of Lukas, who has raved about the gelding's poise, conditioning, and stamina. Mine That Bird finished ninth in his most recent race, the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita last November, when he was still trained by Chip Woolley.

Lukas said he intends to ship his stable to Saratoga on July 12.

The $175,000 Firecracker does not appear to be coming up particularly tough, at least for a Grade 2 race, with the likely favorites being Tizdejavu, Wise River, and Attempted Humor.

Meanwhile, in the absence of a returning Derby winner, the Bashford Manor Stakes and Locust Grove Handicap will have to serve as the Saturday highlights at Churchill.

Fields for each of the Grade 3, $100,000 races were drawn Wednesday. The Bashford Manor, the 10th of 11 Saturday races, drew six 2-year-olds, whereas the Locust Grove (race 9) got double that number of filly-mare turf runners. Lou Brissie, unbeaten in two starts, looks like a solid favorite in the six-furlong Bashford Manor, while Acoma and Keertana are the two big names for the Locust Grove, a one-mile turf race.

Macho Again seeking class relief

Macho Again, the West Point Thoroughbreds standout who came within a head of upsetting Rachel Alexandra last summer in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, will be pointed to less demanding races for the near future, West Point representative Jeff Lifson said.

"We're going to take him up to Saratoga and see if he can't be the same horse he was," Lifson said. "In the meantime, there's an allowance race for him at Saratoga, or some easier stakes than what he's been running in. He definitely won't run in the Whitney."

Since the Woodward last September, Macho Again hasn't come close to winning in four starts, having most recently finished 10th of 11 in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 12 at Churchill. Trained by Dallas Stewart, the 5-year-old gray horse has earned $1,825,767 from 24 starts.

* A rare five-day break on the Kentucky circuit will follow the close of the Churchill meet, with live action resuming July 10 with the start of the 27-day meet at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. Ellis will conduct racing on weekends through Sept. 6, with the following entry schedule in effect: Sunday for Friday, Thursday for Saturday, and Friday for Sunday. First post daily will be 12:50 p.m. Central.