06/29/2010 11:00PM

Still just rehearsing for a second act


While the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park on Saturday will provide I Want Revenge with a heavyweight setting for his first start since the 2009 Wood Memorial, fellow 4-year-old Mine That Bird must wait until another day to make his return to competition, after an allowance race for the same afternoon at Churchill Downs failed to draw enough entries.

That's too bad, because it is important for both I Want Revenge and Mine That Bird to get back to the business of being serious racehorses instead of historically intertwined curiosities.

The impressive nature of I Want Revenge's effort in last year's Wood was eventually lost in the swirling tide of physical challenges and ownership controversy that took place over the ensuing 15 months. On Saturday, I Want Revenge returns as the sole property of IEAH Stables, which bought out breeder and original owner David Lanzman, and he is now trained by Rick Dutrow, who replaced Jeff Mullins.

More than any of his accomplishments, which also included a victory in the Gotham Stakes and a second in the 2008 Hollywood Futurity, I Want Revenge is known far and wide as the 2009 Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite who was scratched early on the day of the race because of a suspicious ankle.

That drama was still hanging in the air when the unlikely Mine That Bird hijacked the story line and powered to a 6 3/4-length victory in the '09 Derby, leaving the best of what was left of the 3-year-old crop scattered in his wake.

Mine That Bird went off at 50-1, but that wasn't the half of it. By now, every New Mexico schoolchild can recite chapter and verse the tale of the little gelding who emerged from the backstretch of Sunland Park, headed to Louisville in a horse trailer hauled by a pickup driven by his banged-up trainer, and invaded racing's holiest ground with no more fanfare than a church mouse sneaking into the Vatican.

After Mine That Bird seized the day, making trainer Chip Woolley an overnight sensation in the process, media and fans spent the next two weeks playing catch-up. They discovered, among other things, that this pint-sized son of Birdstone was, in fact, the reigning 2-year-old champion of Canada.

Mine That Bird has not won a race since the Derby, although he did give Rachel Alexandra a scare in the Preakness, and his third to Summer Bird in the Belmont Stakes was admirable enough. After a six-month break at the Roswell, N.M., farm of co-owner Mark Allen, Mine That Bird was sent to Kentucky and has been turning in a series of brisk works, often in company, for his new trainer, Wayne Lukas.

Dr. Leonard Blach, the New Mexico veterinarian who owns Mine That Bird in partnership with Allen, notes that their Derby winner cuts a much more substantial profile these days.

"There's a lot of difference," Blach said this week from his Buena Suerte Equine farm and clinic in Roswell. "He's put on about 150 pounds, and he's grown quite a bit. He's more mature now. And his coat's darker, too.

"The biggest thing he needed was rest," Blach went on. "We let him just relax. He had a pretty grinding year last year, and some folks expected us to be back for the races earlier this year, like the Oaklawn or the Stephen Foster. But we just wanted him to tell us when he wanted to run. And that's what he seems to be saying now."

Blach said that the partners took a bit of flack for taking Mine That Bird away from Woolley, who had charmed a healthy portion of the sports media through the '09 campaign.

"That was a tough decision, especially for Mark," Blach said. "Him and Chip had been friends for 25 years, going back to the days at Raton, and racing in Colorado. Chip was pretty disappointed, and I don't blame him. He won the Derby for us, then ran second and third in the other two and did a real nice job.

"But we just didn't think having a one-trainer, one-horse stable on the road was financially feasible again this year, like before," Blach noted. "After word got around that we were thinking about making a change, I got a call from Wayne showing interest."

Blach has known Lukas for more than 30 years, from the days when they both spent summers in Ruidoso, dealing with Quarter Horses.

"He ended up doing okay," Blach said with a laugh. "I did some work for him back then, and he was always good with his bills. Now I'm paying him."

Blach likes what Lukas has been telling him about Mine That Bird, right down to the finer points of accommodating the gelding's edgy personality.

"He was always a little nervous in his stall, his head bobbing up and down and him kind of weaving a little bit," Blach said. "Wayne told me he had a window to the next stall where he could see the other horse, and when that didn't do the trick he said he put a mirror in there. Mine That Bird would look at himself and think he was looking at another horse. So now he doesn't waste a lot of energy.

"We all know he's going to need a different running style, though," Blach added. "He can't be staying 15 lengths behind the pack anymore. But he's a smart horse. I think he knows that, and Lukas has worked with him, to put him in the race a little sooner."

With Mine That Bird's return delayed by the unfilled race at Churchill, he will move on to Saratoga now with the Lukas stable.

"With Quality Road coming back the way he has, along with Blame, and now I Want Revenge, we know this is a pretty good group of 4-year-olds," Blach said. "But I think we'll see great things from our horse this year. And if everything goes well, we'll be back to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup Classic."

At least there's a good chance that race will fill.