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Jul 31, 2009

Mine That Bird looms large in West Virginia Derby


Chester, WV (Sports Network) - Kentucky Derby champ Mine That Bird will become the first winner of the Run for the Roses to ever start in the West Virginia Derby when the gates open Saturday for the $750,000 race at Mountaineer Park. The 1 1/8 mile event has attracted a field of six three-year-olds.

"After the Belmont, we took a good look around the country, with the idea of finding the best spot," trainer Chip Woolley said. "And we thought that it would be Mountaineer. I studied this very hard. We do want a fast racetrack, but we also need one that a horse can close over. That's our main focus."

Mine That Bird, owned by Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach, will be the overwhelming favorite for his first start since the Triple Crown series ended.

"I'm ready to go back to running," said Woolley recently. "It was enjoyable to be here (Churchill Downs) the first month after the Belmont to just kind of relax and rest. It had been a pretty long run and with my broken leg it takes twice as much out of you. It gave me a chance to rest my leg and do a little healing, but now though I'm ready. I'm definitely ready to be rolling again and get back to running."

The three-year-old gelding will be ridden by Mike Smith from post two. Smith, who was aboard in the Preakness Stakes, finished sixth on Wanna Runner in the 2006 West Virginia Derby.

"The main focus here will be for Mike to keep the horse covered up early," Woolley indicated, "keep him in behind horses where he's not trying to run, and then give him some running room and make a move.

Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 2 as a 50-1 longshot. The gelding finished second to the filly Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness Stakes and was third in the Belmont Stakes to Summer Bird. 'Rachel' and Summer Bird will both start in Sunday's Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

"I would have loved to run Mine That Bird in the Haskell," said Woolley. "There's a lot of money there, a lot of prestige. But the problem is that if you're not within five or six lengths of the lead early at Monmouth, you have no chance. I know, because I watch the simulcasts of the races from there. I watch them every day.

"When we decided to come to West Virginia, we didn't know that (Preakness Stakes winner) Rachel Alexandra was going to the Haskell. We thought she might go after Zenyatta. I was kind of surprised, although Monmouth is dead-suited to Rachel Alexandra's running style."

'Bird' has earned better than $1.8 million this year, even though he has just the one win in five starts. The Kentucky Derby champ has a career record of five wins in 11 races and earnings of $2,121,581.

"The 'Bird' doesn't need to take his racetrack with him," Woolley noted. "He has run on that fast track at Sunland and the deep, sandy track at Belmont. That track (at Mountaineer) has a tendency to really be loose, but I do feel like if there's a horse in the world that's going to go over there and get over it easy and do it well, it's him. He's so light and gets over the ground so easy, it seems like he takes his racetrack with him anywhere he goes."

Mine That Bird was voted Canada's champion two-year-old of 2008.

Following the West Virginia Derby, Woolley plans to enter his trainee in the Travers Stakes on August 29 at Saratoga Race Course and the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park in November.

"A guy like me, I've been in this for 25 years, and have never made a mark on the industry," Woolley said. "You can go through a lifetime, and few people notice what you've done. Two months after winning the Kentucky Derby, it's still a hard thing for me to grasp. You always dream of it happening, but you never really think that dream will become reality."

Here is the complete field in post position order for the 40th West Virginia Derby: Soul Warrior, Miguel Mena; Mine That Bird, Mike Smith; Awesome Rhythm, James McAleney; Sunday Sunrise, Corey Lanerie; Big Drama, Eibar Coa and Monty's Best, Eurico Rosa Da Silva.

Zayat Stables' Soul Warrior and Sunday Sunrise will race an entry.

The scheduled post-time for the West Virginia Derby is 5:45 P.M. (et).

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