Favorite Role Falls to Mine That Bird in Belmont
by Greg Melikov - 06/01/2009
The horse to beat in the 141st Belmont is the gelding that won the Kentucky Derby, but finished second in the Preakness.
With Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra taking a break, Mine That Bird will be favored over as many as 10 challengers.
The only Derby winner the past two decades to lose the Preakness and win the Belmont was Thunder Gulch in '95. He was one of five winning post-time favorites, including three that captured the Preakness after losing the Derby: Risen Star, '88; Point Given, '01; and Afleet Alex, '05.
However, more than 48 percent of Belmonts were won by favorites. The lowest payoff is $2.10 in '43 when Count Fleet became the sixth of 11 thoroughbreds to capture the Triple Crown.
There's been five horses that returned double-digit payoffs during the 21st Century, including the largest in '02 - Sarava's $142.50. War Emblem, attempting to become the 12th Triple Crown champ, finished eighth.
Two horses in Saturday's field were sired by '04 Belmont winner Birdstone: Mine That Bird and Summer Bird, sixth in the Derby.
Trainer Nick Zito, who saddled Birdstone and last year's Belmont winner Da'Tara, may send out three horses: Brave Victory, third behind Charitable Man in the Peter Pan; Miner's Escape, winner of the Fredrico Tesio; and Nowhere to Hide, 17th in the Derby.
If all three go, it will increase the number of Zito's all-time Belmont starters to 23.
D. Wayne Lukas will saddle two that finished off the board in the Preakness: Flying Private, fourth, and Luv Guv. He has trained four winners in 19 tries: Tabasco Cat, '94; Thunder Gulch, '95; Editor's Note, '96 and Commendable, '00.
There were less than nine starters only twice in the 21st Century -- '03 when Empire Maker defeated five others and '07 when Rags to Riches whipped six males.
The smallest fields were two each in 1887, 1888, 1892, 1910 and 1920. The largest field was 15 in 1983 when Caveat beat Slew o' Gold.
This Belmont would be the fifth time in nine years that more than 10 horses ran.
If Mine That Bird triumphs, Calvin Borel will become the only jockey to win the Triple Crown on two different horses.
Borel, aboard Preakness winner Rachel Alexander, gets back on Mine That Bird since her owners announced the filly needed to take a break. Luckily, the gelding's owners held off selecting another rider.
Borel, 42, was born in southern Louisiana. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade to pursue a riding career, starting at Louisiana tracks before branching out throughout the South.
He has ridden more than 4,500 winners during a career spanning three decades, capturing 13 titles at seven tracks, including Churchill Downs where he guided Street Sense to victory in the '07 Derby.
Mine That Bird went a half-mile in 50 seconds on Monday at Churchill Downs. Trainer Chip Woolley called the final workout perfect, according to the Daily Racing Form.
"We're going to win it, no questions asked," Borel predicted. "I love the way he went today. He really came bouncing off the track once we were done. That's what I love about him. He's just so happy."