Mine That Bird hopes to outrun the fluke factor

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:44 PM ET

BALTIMORE -- It's a horse race, not a horse show.

So, who cares if Mine That Bird is a drab-looking gelding who stands a little odd and comes from a modest background?

Who cares if he first started racing in Toronto, then moved to New Mexico and was trained in both places by horsemen not well-known beyond their own backstretch?

The compact runner is the long-shot Kentucky Derby champion and, today, the horse who began his career at Woodbine Racetrack attempts to add the second jewel of racing's Triple Crown.

The shock factor is gone for Mine That Bird after his 50-1 score at Churchill Downs, but now he has to back up that stunning Derby effort with a strong performance in the Preakness Stakes at quirky old Pimlico Racecourse.

"Hopefully, we can go out there and show people that it wasn't a fluke," said jockey Mike Smith, who will be on Mine That Bird for the first time when the horses go to the starting gate this evening (6:15 p.m., NBC).

ONE SLIGHT

The fact that it is Smith talking about the horse is just one of the slights on the Derby champ, who parlayed a four-race win streak at Woodbine into a Sovereign Award as Canada's champion two-year-old for 2008.

Calvin Borel, who rode him to the Derby victory, couldn't get off the horse's back fast enough and on to filly Rachel Alexandra, who is the 8-5 morning-line favourite in the field of 13 for today's race.

Of the 22 expert handicappers who made selections in the Preakness edition of the Daily Racing Form, not one put Mine That Bird on top.

Yesterday, Borel took it one step further and tempted the racing gods by virtually guaranteeing his fast and talented filly will win the middle jewel.

"The other horses are going to have to run the race of their lives, or me fall off or something stupid happen," Borel said. "I've just got to point her in the right direction and she'll get me there."

With the presence of the filly favourite and the top four finishers from the Derby, Preakness No. 134 shapes up as one of the most intriguing in years.

Though he hasn't been in Canada since his Woodbine win streak and lucrative sale to New Mexico interests, and likely never will be back, Mine That Bird has gathered a following in the country where he learned what it is all about.

Former trainer/owner Dave Cotey has been thrust in the spotlight for his unlikely role in developing a Derby winner. And then there is Canadian jockey Chantal Sutherland, who almost got the mount in Kentucky and now must watch her boyfriend, Smith, take over for the Preakness.

"She's given me a lot of insight about him," Smith said when asked if Sutherland was supportive of his good fortune. "She told me he's really rider-friendly and he'll do anything you want to do."

But can he do it again?

"That was not a fluke race he ran," said trainer Larry Jones, whose Derby favourite, Friesan Fire, is here today. "Can he run two back-to-back? That's the big question ... and we're about to find out."

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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