Bird is the Word

Trainers try to move on after Derby upset

By Alicia Wincze - awincze@herald-leader.com

LOUISVILLE — Bob Baffert sat inside his office Sunday morning slightly bleary-eyed, still trying to make sense of what the heck had happened less than 24 hours earlier.

“I’m just like everybody else, I just cannot believe it,” the newly minted Hall of Fame trainer lamented. “I’m still just in shock.”

He wasn’t the only one.

For practically everyone involved, the reality of Mine That Bird’s upset 63/4-length victory over Baffert trainee Pioneerof the Nile in the 135th Kentucky Derby was taking longer than usual to set in — albeit certain parties were enjoying the journey more than others.

Outside of Barn 42, winning trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr. marveled at the stream of media that made their way over as he tried once again to describe what it felt like to be the man who helped turn a 50-1 shot into a classic winner.

Not surprisingly, Woolley said he had gotten almost zero sleep since shocking the racing world. And as was expected, the low-key New Mexico resident found the anonymity he previously enjoyed had all but disappeared.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling, it’s actually hard to get your mind around it at the moment,” Woolley said. “It’s hard to believe you came in here and won this thing.

“I was saying a little while ago that nobody called me who owed me money, but we’ve had a lot of calls.”

Though initial plans called for Mine That Bird to be pointed toward the Grade III Lone Star Derby on May 9, the defections of such top performers as The Pamplemousse and Old Fashioned from the Kentucky Derby trail allowed the bay gelding to work his way into the field by mid-April.

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Co-owner Mark Allen said the original plan was to skip the Preakness and head to the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes if the gelded son of Birdstone “showed us something” in the Derby.

Now that Mine That Bird demonstrated more than anyone expected on Saturday, that plan may be altered as well.

“If he’s doing well we’d like to run (in the Preakness), but we’re going to let the horse tell us,” Allen said Sunday morning. “We don’t feel obligated to go. We don’t owe nobody nothing.”

None of Mine That Bird’s connections were so bold as to say they saw Saturday’s stunning triumph coming, but hindsight told them he had a better run in him than people expected.

In both the Sunland Derby on March 29 and the Borderland Derby on Feb. 28 — where he ran fourth and second, respectively — the smallish gelding was close to or on the lead in the early going and had already used up his kick before he hit the stretch.

“He was moved too early both times,” Woolley said. “I kept telling everybody we needed to be back further. This horse had a huge move, he can swallow them at anytime, but at Sunland, he swallowed down the backside instead of in the stretch.”

If Mine That Bird does commit to running in the Preakness, it’s uncertain how much company he will have.

As of Sunday morning, the only Derby contender firmly committed to going on to Baltimore was fourth-place finisher Papa Clem.

“We will probably stay here a few days, but we will go to Baltimore when there is a flight,” trainer Gary Stute said.

Baffert said Pioneerof the Nile came out of the race with a handful of minor nicks and would wait a few days before making a decision to go on.

Though Baffert has three Derby wins to his credit, those victories provided little comfort Sunday as he pondered what might have been.

“The thing that really disappointed me is when he turned for home I thought ‘This is it,’ ” Baffert said of Pioneerof the Nile. “I really thought if he won the Derby he’d have a good shot at the Triple Crown.

“It’s like (1996 Derby winner) Grindstone is still haunting me because Birdstone is by Grindstone and he beat me (by a nose) the first time when I had Cavonnier,” Baffert continued. “Maybe Mine That Bird is the real deal, we’re going to find out.”

Cindy Jones, wife of trainer Larry Jones, said beaten favorite Friesan Fire had a chunk of flesh missing from his left front foot after getting bumped at the start of the race and was also sporting several minor cuts.

“The more we got the mud off, the more cuts we found,” Cindy Jones said. “His right hock … its like a bad floor burn on the outside of it, like when you burn your knees. But he’s fine, time will take care of it.”

Derek Ryan, trainer of third-place finisher Musket Man, said they would head back to Monmouth Park before making a decision on the Preakness. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said fifth-place finisher Chocolate Candy would likely skip the Preakness and train up to the Belmont.

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