Triple Crown drought will continue
May 3, 2009
I'm going to go out on a limb here, which is appropriate because we're
talking about a bird here, and say that Kentucky Derby winner Mine
That Bird will not sweep the Triple Crown.
Call it a hunch.
He was indeed much the best on the first Saturday in May, so much the
best that he won the race by the largest margin in 63 years.
Yet what we saw on Saturday was the perfect storm of events. Mine That
Bird, at 50-1, ran the race of his life on a surface he relished.
Meanwhile, either through injury or a dislike for the track or who
knows what, every other horse in the field of 19 failed to run
anywhere close to their best.
Maybe that will happen again once, perhaps, but surely not twice.
Hearing trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. talk in non-committal terms about
the Preakness only adds credence to the notion that the Triple Crown
drought will extend into a 32nd year. Trainers always adopt a let's
wait see about a next race since injuries do not always surface a few
minutes after a race. Yet from the tone of his remarks Sunday morning,
it's evident that he didn't expect to win the Derby and he wonders if
he has a horse that's built to hold up through three Triple Crown
We haven't seen a Derby winner skip the Preakness since 1996 when
Grindstone (the grandsire of Mine That Bird) was retired with a
career-ending injury less than a week after the Run for the Roses.
Beyond that, no one with a healthy Derby winner has bypassed the
Preakness since 1985 and the infamous Spend a Buck-Jersey Derby
fiasco, and a ton of cash was the cause there. That will not come into
play here. In this case, if Mine That Bird bounces back OK from the
race, the possibility of a soft Preakness and the lure of a Triple
Crown possibility will probably prompt the Derby winner's connections
to give it a try.
Yes, a soft Preakness. Without any type of bonus of running in all
three legs of the Triple Crown, the prevailing philosophy for Derby
losers is to skip the Preakness, rest their horse and point for the
Belmont or one of the other rich 3-year-old stakes on the national
landscape. Only one other horse from the Derby returned to challenge
Big Brown in last year's Preakness and Gayego's 11th place finish is
hardly a ringing endorsement to try it this year.
So far, the only one of the second through fourth place finishers in
the Derby who has committed to the Preakness is Papa Clem, who was
fourth. Pioneerof the Nile, who was second, and Musket Man, who was
third, are just possibilities.
As for the two favorites in the Derby, don't raise your hopes that
they'll be in Baltimore. Friesan Fire, the Derby favorite who wound up
18th, and second-choice Dunkirk, who was 11th, each grabbed a quarter
in the race, explaining their poor performances. Neither injury
appears serious, but my guess is that neither horse will be rushed
back to the races in time for the Preakness. It doesn't make sense for
either of them.
And that's where the dilemma comes in for Woolley. The textbook answer
for him, or the trainer of any Derby winner for that matter, would be
to rest his horse for at least a month and freshen him up after such a
draining effort. Yet the structure of the Triple Crown does not allow
that. You have to run on short rest, which is 180 degrees removed from
running a hurt horse. The physical risk is not anywhere as great as
the risk of a horse simply not running his best race and that's the
big question for the horse's connections and handicappers. Is, say,
Mine That Bird's B race, good enough to win a Preakness devoid of the
Last year, you saw, if you follow speed figures, that Big Brown began
a downward spiral after a lightning-quick victory in the Derby. He ran
slower in the Preakness, but won with his B race because the field
was so weak. Then in the Belmont everything fell apart when he ran his
The same thing will likely happen to Mine That Bird, perhaps even more
quickly. Unless the 135th Derby turns out to be slowest Derby since
they stopped using sun dials, Mine That Bird ran significantly faster
than he ever has. That has bounce written all over it, though
occasionally horses bounce and still find a field they can beat. Maybe
the Preakness will be that kind of race, but I wouldn't want to bet on
it unless it rains two Saturday's from now at Pimlico.
Sometimes, when you look back, an upset comes into focus better and
you can decide whether it was an under- appreciated horse or unusual
conditions that sparked the upset. Giacomo, when he paid $102.60,
benefitted from freaky fast fractions in the 2005 Derby and was then
third in the Preakness and seventh in the Belmont Stakes.
Charismatic, meanwhile, took the Lexington prior to winning the 1999
Derby at 32-1 odds. There was nothing unusual that day. It was an
honest race. He was simply the best horse, just as he was two weeks
later in the Preakness.
What we will learn down the road is whether Mine That Bird, who ran in
a claimer early in his career, is akin to one of two distinctly
different longshot-wet track Triple Crown race winners, Dust Commander
and Temperence Hill. Dust Commander won the 1970 Derby on a good track
at 15-1 odds and never won another stakes. Temperence Hill took the
1980 Belmont at 53-1 odds on a muddy track, but then went on to win
the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and the 3-year-old championship.
I'm leaning toward the one shot wonder here. There was no sign of
progress in Mine That Bird's prep races that signaled he was capable
of running like he did on Saturday. He was fourth, after all, in the
Sunland Derby and he had never been more than 2 ? lengths behind at
the first call of his four previous wins. The Kentucky Derby, when he
was more than 18 lengths behind after the opening quarter mile, was
most likely a fluke.
It was nothing more than the perfect storm - the likes of which we
will not see twice more in the next five weeks.
And what are thoughts on the future holds for Mine That Bird?
34 total comments for "Triple Crown drought will continue"
Luis E Astacio (5/07/2009 1:24 PM)
I just can`t beleive that you said that there is no triple crown
winner.I have been watching horse racing at least for the last sixty
years in multiple locations. The only thing that i for sure can said
is that the only horse that can not win a race is the one that stays
in the stall.Experience showed me that. Luis
mole (5/07/2009 6:58 AM)
commonsense, you apparently lost big money on this race. I on the
other hand, didn't lose a penny . I do not bet on the horses. I love
all the racehorses. that is why I can be so happy for this little
rookie, and I am.So you can keep your mumbo jumbo about the history of
who should win by the past races to your self. You see none of that
means crap to me. I don't lose any thing on these majestic creatures,
I just love each and everyone of them and give them more credit for
the hard work that each one does, than just for the money. by the way,
the little rookie made it to the front cover of Sports Illustrated,
now that makes him in my book somewhat, pretty damn special.
t morris (5/06/2009 6:01 PM)
horses have away of coming in to thir selfs and you just wittnessed
and if you think this horse is going to fall on his face you dont know
much about horses
jay (5/06/2009 1:07 PM)
Bob.Let's give Mine That Bird all the credit he deserves. He not only
ran by everyone in the race he "flew" by them. I think they found his
style; a stone cold closer and though closers need some luck in big
fields, I think he has an excellent chance of winning the next two.
One other note. Closers are less likely to bounce off wins versus
trackers and speed horses.
BILL BENDER (5/06/2009 9:45 AM)
I HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT SPEND A BUCK IN 1985 AND THE JERSEY DERBY PEOPLE
TRYING TO ATTRACT SOME OF THE BEST THREE YEAR OLDS BY THROWING A LOT
OF MONEY AT EVERYONE. I WAS HOPING MIKE SMITH COULD WIN ON CHOCOLATE
CANDY... I AGREE WITH YOU...I DON'T THINK "MIND THAT BIRD" WILL HAVE A
CHANCE OF WINNING MORE STAKES RACES THIS YEAR... BUT...MAYBE HE'LL DO
WELL AS A 4 YEAR OLD??