08/07/2009 12:00AM

Wait, wait, wait to pull that trigger


PHOENIX - You could see them giving those knowing glances at one another, that group of handicappers who all along believed Mine That Bird's Derby win a fluke, that a perfect storm of factors led to him producing that monster effort. And now, after three straight losses, they're patting themselves on the back, taking the classic "We told you so" stance.

Things are not all roses right now for Mine That Bird, yes, but I'm still not inclined to be a card-carrying member of that group. Mine That Bird will likely never be a great horse, but that doesn't mean the Derby winner can't still do some big things. But for that to happen some things need to change - namely tactics.

There were those immediately clamoring for Mike Smith's head after he was deemed to have moved early in the West Virginia Derby, bringing Mine That Bird surging into contention into the lane before he went phhhht like a pricked balloon in the final furlong. Smith did what you're supposed to do 90 times out of a 100 - you see a pace scenario that looks bad for you, and you adjust. You ride on the fly and see how things develop. There was nothing inherently wrong with Smith's decision.

Trouble is, we now know Mine That Bird's strength is also his weakness.

Mine That Bird is like a booster rocket - when ignited, he goes full tilt. But the fuel for that explosion is limited and when it's done, it's done. Smith, or whomever rides Mine That Bird, is going to have to wait to use it, even if it means a foe gets away on the lead.

While Smith thought he was making the right move by going early after Big Drama in the West Virginia Derby, the right move (in hindsight, of course) would have been to let Big Drama go, wait for that quarter pole, and then hit overdrive. That method means there will be times Mine That Bird just won't get there, but it's his best chance to bring back that Derby form.

A plan for Zenyatta

As colleague Jay Privman noted the other day, Zenyatta may well continue to be perfect, but a shot at Horse of the Year appears to be slipping away. Zenyatta has done nothing wrong, but Rachel Alexandra has been doing her thing in the game's sexiest division: the 3-year-old ranks.

Even four more brilliant races by Zenyatta - say she wins the Clement Hirsch on Sunday, beats the boys in the Pacific Classic, wins the Lady's Secret and the Breeders' Cup Classic - may not be enough to overtake Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year.

Zenyatta's trainer, John Shirreffs, and owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, are smart people. They see what's going on. That leaves them one option: they have to go get Rachel.

So maybe the best plan is this: Hope all goes according to plan in the Hirsch on Sunday (and Life Is Sweet is no pushover) and go to Saratoga for the Grade 1 Woodward Sept. 6. Rachel's people have expressed interest in that race, too. So you dig in and tell 'em you'll be waiting at the Spa.

If Rachel doesn't show, go anyway, hopefully romp and then play it up with the voters: "Hey, we traveled 2,500 miles, they said she wanted us on dirt, not on Southern California synthetic, and then didn't show." That would carry considerable weight come voting time. If all goes well in the Woodward, they could even track Rachel down a month later, say in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Oct. 3.

It's their only shot. And maybe they can change the conversation from "Rachel is the best girl since Ruffian" to "Rachel is the best girl since Zenyatta."