Saturday, July 4, 2009

Julien Leparoux ... no, Mike Smith! ... to be aboard Mine That Bird in West Virginia Derby and Travers

It seems that nothing's ever simple or straightforward when dealing with Mine That Bird and his connections.

I check my e-mail pretty religiously, at least on weekends and when there are horses to discuss. I saw a tip from a message board friend that the Blood-Horse was reporting that jockey Julien Leparoux had committed to ride the Kentucky Derby winner in the upcoming West Virginia Derby-G2, Aug. 1 at Mountaineer Park.

I clicked the link to read the story, and the page at was empty.

I clicked the Blood-Horse logo to head back to the homepage and saw no page-topping story link to coverage of who is riding Mine That Bird now that owner Mark Allen and trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. have de-seated the man who won them the Kentucky Derby and beat them in the Preakness, Calvin Borel. But a quick search of the page found a smaller-type link for the story "Smith to Ride Mine That Bird in Two Stakes."

So the news is: Mike Smith, who rode Mine That Bird to a closing second behind Borel and Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness Stakes and then gave up the mount to ride for regular clients Jerry and Ann Moss on the west coast and skip the Belmont Stakes, is back in the irons for the West Virginia Derby and the Travers S.-G1, at Saratoga. ... But apparently that news came after an only-temporarily-correct story had broken that Leparoux would ride the 'Bird in West Virginia.

Or something.

Turns out the report about Leparoux was right until his agent "realized he had a prior commitment." ... The sort of commitment that apparently keeps him from riding a short-priced favorite in a $750,000 race.

This can't be the resolution that Allen and Woolley were hoping to achieve. Unseating Borel might have been the right move for them, because if Rachel Alexandra ends up in the Travers, too (or in the Jim Dandy-G2 on West Va. Derby Day) they were going to lose him, anyway.

But to go back to a jock who asked-off their horse prior to a Grade 1 ... and a jockey who will have to travel from California to ride their horse in these two eastern races ... and thus probably won't be working him in the interim ... and who didn't even commit beyond the end of August ... that can't be what Mine That Bird's principals were looking for.

I know they're New Mexico connections who are likely to blow away like tumbleweeds from the national racing landscape when this horse is gone. But he isn't looking like he'll be gone anytime soon.

Not only was Mine That Bird a convincing Derby winner in the slop, but he came back and scored a gutsy runner-up finish in the Preakness and a credible third in the Belmont Stakes without getting a good trip in either race. He's won over synthetic surfaces at Woodbine in earning a Canadian 2-year-old championship, and shouldn't chicken out of the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita like the connections of some horses. (You heard me, Jess Jackson and Rachel.)

And he's a 3-year-old gelding. He might race in good company until he's 6, or 7, or 8.

Not to mention, though they're being passed off as hayseeds who crashed the party -- c'mon, NTRA, you're telling me that in two months nobody can get around to writing a frickin' bio for these two guys for your Web site? -- Mark Allen reportedly has the better part of $30 million to play with from the sale of his family's oil field services company. If he hires a good bloodstock agent, he'll keep himself in competitive horses for as long as he cares to stay there.

Will nobody commit to this horse through the Breeders' Cup? ... Nobody?

To me it seems we have a Catch-22: Mine That Bird appears to be a very good horse with obscure connections, and those connections realize they have a horse worthy of one of the best jockeys in the country and aren't willing to settle for less.

It's possible that Mike Smith won't be faced with having to take off Mine That Bird before the Breeders' Cup on the first weekend November, but then again, he might. It's reasonable to believe the Travers on Aug. 29 won't be Mine That Bird's last race before a Nov. 7 trip to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup Classic. That's a lot of days between.

Could be he fits in the Super Derby-G2 on Sept. 19 at Louisiana Downs. Or is sent out against older horses for the first time in the Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1 on Oct. 3 at Belmont. Or wants to clobber other 3-year-olds in the Indiana Derby-G2 at Hoosier Park on Oct. 3.

Any of those, and maybe others not on the cusp of my brain, set up as a potential last race for Mine That Bird before the Breeders' Cup in November. And nobody is committed to ride him in September or October. Or November.

Allen and Woolley probably should've swallowed their pride and stepped down just one peg on the jockey ladder to find someone with ability -- a younger guy, an overlooked guy, or not a guy at all -- who would be thrilled to have a horse the caliber of Mine That Bird, and who would have to be dragged off him with a cowboy's lasso (which Woolley could probably accomplish) rather than be asking off him the next time they have a good horse running anywhere else.

And that's actually a decent list of people.

For me, it starts with Chantal Sutherland, who piloted Mine That Bird to his Canadian championship. She rode him to a dull finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but who knows how "off" the horse was after a long ship from Woodbine to Santa Anita last fall? Allen's Double Eagle Ranch and partner Buena Suerte Equine had only owned him a couple of weeks at the time. Sutherland is presently 34th in earnings among all North American riders according to, winning at a fair 14 percent clip and hitting the board with 43 percent of her mounts. And she might be a good public relations move -- hiring the horse's capable former jockey, a spokesmodel-pretty and well-spoken woman, to boot, to try and guide him to a Breeders' Cup win that eluded them both last year.

Of course, maybe one ride last fall for these connections was enough for Chantal; only she could say.

There are plenty of other names worth tossing into the discussion, though I'll admit to not knowing all the commitments for them that might conflict.

Rajiv Maragh is No. 10 on the 2009 jockey earnings list and second in wins at the present Belmont meet. Mike Luzzi and one of my favorites, Richard Migliore, are capable old hands at Saratgoa who could stand to win a $750K race at Mountaineer next month, and "Migs" knows his way around Santa Anita plenty well, too.

Churchill's colony, if they're looking for someone to work the horse regularly and ship with him to races, has some respectable possiblities. Young Miguel Mena, 22, is third in wins during the Churchill meet -- ahead of names like Robby Albarado, Shaun Bridgmohan, Corey Lanerie, and Jamie Theriot -- and could use a "big horse" to give his career an extra boost. Not Mena? Try one of those other names I just listed; Bridgmohan in particular. He's 17th in earnings this year among all North American jockeys.

Willing to go with a California-based jock who might be very interested in a mount for the Breeders' Cup out there? Joel Rosario is another who apparently doesn't merit mention among the bios at NTRA, but all he's doing is leading the Hollywood Park meet in wins with 62 from 292 mounts, is second in earnings to Rafael Bejarano, and his jockey agent is track announcer Vic Stauffer, so your gelding is not going to get overlooked when hanging around at the back of the pack before bringing his late run.

I'm not saying Mike Smith is a bad jockey for Mine That Bird. What I'm saying is, if Jerry and Ann Moss or their trainer, John Shirreffs, come up with a horse for the Classic, you're losing him. And with no commitment for September or October, you're possibly losing him even earlier than that.

I'm starting to feel for these guys a little bit, and particularly for their horse. Mine That Bird is a Kentucky Derby winner who deserves a regular rider.

But it looks like the riders the connections want won't make the horse their No. 1 mount, and the good jockeys who'd be glad to make Mine That Bird their No. 1 horse aren't the riders Allen and Woolley want.

Or maybe they're selling the horse before the Breeders' Cup anyway and only need their own jockey for two more races.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.