El Brujo has fast company

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Given that even the best lose far more races than they win, it doesn't hurt to have selective memory when you are in the business of training thoroughbreds.

With that in mind, not long after El Brujo crossed the wire a struggling ninth in his most recent start, Malcolm Pierce tossed it out with the useless losing betting tickets of those who had made him the favourite in the Plate Trial Stakes.

There are any number of past efforts to inspire optimism in the contender for the 150th Queen's Plate this Sunday, but why not start with one of the earliest, a thriller this past September when El Brujo was a little more than a neck short at the finish?

You may have heard of the victor in that minor Woodbine stakes race known as the Swynford. It was none other than a plucky gelding who in the past two months has brought fame to Canadian racing by winning the Kentucky Derby, finishing second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes.

"Mine That Bird is a significant horse," El Brujo's jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson said at yesterday's annual Plate barbecue. "Say that name anywhere in horse racing and they know who you are talking about.

"Putting that name in the same company as El Brujo says a lot about this horse."

Chip Woolley, the formerly obscure trainer from New Mexico who expertly managed Mine That Bird through his magical run this spring, said that the Swynford result was one of the attractions when he first became interested in purchasing the Canadian champion from Woodbine horseman Dave Cotey.

So if you are judged by the company you keep, that doesn't hurt El Brujo who raced stride for stride with the famous Bird. Nor does the fact he never had been worse than third in eight career starts prior to the Plate Trial, a dull effort in which Pierce hoped to teach the son of Candy Ride to race from off the pace.

The Windways Farm homebred has been the favourite in his five previous starts but because of his most recent debacle won't have to lug that weight on Sunday. Bettors have a more practical memory and it's possible El Brujo could be the fourth choice when the expected field of 14 three-year-olds are loaded into the Woodbine starting gate.

Before you bet the farm, remember that just as the Canadian and U.S. Triple Crowns are different beasts, so too are Mine That Bird and El Brujo. When the latter quietly was winning the Queenston Stakes at Woodbine on May 2, an hour or so later in Louisville, Ky., Mine That Bird would shock the racing world with his 50-1 Kentucky stunner.

For El Brujo, the most glaring difference now is proving himself on one of racing's biggest days.

"I expect a much better performance, we'll toss that last race as a learning experience," said Pierce, who three times in the past won the Plate as an assistant trainer. "I'm not sure if he'll ever get a mile and a quarter (Plate distance), that's still a question mark. But he's an honest, trying horse and there's a million reasons (as in the $1-million purse) to run in this race.

"And it's kind of encouraging that we raced so well against (Mine That Bird) after he has gone on to do what he has done."

Then there is Wilson, who has had her own bumpy road to the race. She looked to have a serious shot with Trial runner-up Southdale, who subsequently was injured. But when Patrick Husbands bailed on El Brujo to handle filly Tasty Temptation, Wilson got the call.

"El Brujo showed (last year) that he was a significant player and I like the way he has matured," said Wilson, the first woman to ride a Plate winner when she captured the 2007 running with 15-1 shot Mike Fox. "I wanted to ride him because I believe he has a shot."

And as Mine That Bird so spectacularly taught us, it's a shot worth taking.


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