07/27/2009 11:00PM

Top 3-year-olds out this weekend

Reed Palmer Photography
Mine That Bird, working earlier this month at Churchill Downs, has made the trip to Mountaineer for the West Virginia Derby. If all goes well, his next stop will be Saratoga for the Travers.

Major stakes that have drawn the elite of the 3-year-old division will be run this weekend in the Eastern U.S. and appear likely to produce the top contenders for what is shaping up as a sensational summer summit, the $1 million Shadwell Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 29.

Most notably, the stars of the 2009 Triple Crown series, Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra, will compete in separate events a little more than 24 hours apart this weekend, and their connections said Tuesday that both could run in the Travers.

Mine That Bird, the Kentucky Derby winner, will be making his first start since finishing third as the favorite in the June 6 Belmont Stakes when he starts Saturday in a small field in the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park in Chester, W.Va.

Rachel Alexandra, the superstar filly who won the Preakness, will take on male rivals - including the upset Belmont winner, Summer Bird - when she goes off favored Sunday in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.

The Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes also is on tap for Saturday at Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The Jim Dandy is expected to draw less-familiar names but perennially produces a serious contender or two for the Travers. Kensei and Warrior's Reward, first and third in the Dwyer, are expected to top the field.

Jess Jackson, the majority owner of Rachel Alexandra, has not committed the filly to the Travers, but did say during a national teleconference Tuesday that the 1 1/4-mile race certainly is on his radar.

"We have to see how she comes out of each race," said Jackson. "I'm delighted to be watching and participating in the Haskell. Rachel's an incredible horse in the industry. She's still growing, still improving. I expect the best is still yet to come."

Questioned further about Rachel Alexandra racing at Saratoga, where the filly has been training in recent weeks for Steve Asmussen, Jackson said, "I'd like to see her run there . . . running against the boys wouldn't be an embarrassment if there was a loss."

Calvin Borel, the regular rider of Rachel Alexandra, on Tuesday reiterated that Rachel Alexandra is "the best horse I've ever been on." Informed that a record crowd could turn out Sunday for the Haskell, Borel said, "She has such a long stride and covers so much ground, I can imagine people coming to see her."

Entries for the 42nd running of the Haskell will be drawn Thursday. The 1 1/8-mile race is coming up especially deep, with not only Rachel Alexandra and Summer Bird expected, but also Papa Clem, Munnings, Atomic Rain, and Duke of Mischief in a prospective field of at least eight.

In West Virginia, where Mine That Bird not only will become the first Kentucky Derby winner to race at Mountaineer, but the first winner of a Triple Crown event to race anywhere in the state, only six horses - and just five wagering interests - were entered Tuesday in the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby. Mine That Bird, with Mike Smith to ride, figures as a solid favorite over the speedy Big Drama in what trainer Chip Woolley conceded Tuesday could be a race that unfolds with a tricky pace scenario.

"Sure, it's a big concern anytime you get in a situation like that," Woolley said. If Big Drama "bounces away from there and gets a free lead, it's going to be tough to run him down."

Nonetheless, Mine That Bird has shipped to West Virginia from Kentucky in great shape, and the race will not serve merely as a prep for the Travers, he added.

"He's not a horse hard to keep fit or get fit," said Woolley. "I want to win. With a horse like this horse, you want to win them all and not leave anything laying out there. You never go into a race with a horse like him where you're not trying to win and lay it all on the line."

Woolley said he intends to ship to Saratoga on Monday with Mine That Bird to start preparing for the Travers.

Eight other stakes also are carded for Saturday at Mountaineer. Night racing is the norm there, but special first post on West Virginia Derby Day is 2 p.m. Eastern.

Fox Sports Net will provide live coverage of the West Virginia Derby from 5-6 p.m. Eastern, while TVG will televise the Haskell, which carries a post time of 6:14 p.m. Both TVG and HRTV will show the Jim Dandy, for which entries were to be drawn Wednesday.