Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mine That Bird: Sizzle or fizzle in Firecracker?

With one big change already behind him, former Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird takes another leap in his racing career Sunday as he makes his 2010 debut (after considerable layoff) in Sunday's Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs -- a switch to the turf.

In May, the 4-year-old's connections moved him from the barn of Chip Wooley -- who trained him for the second-biggest upset in Derby history and to credible performances in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes -- turning him over to Hall-of-Famer D. Wayne Lukas. The Birdstone gelding hasn't raced since an also-ran finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic in November, and a mile and a sixteenth Churchill allowance failed to fill for him recently. So Lukas, feeling the horse needs a race, decided to take a crack at the G2 Firecracker.

And for some reason, the horse has been highweighted at 122 pounds, and installed as the 3/1 morning-line favorite for the race. I just don't see it.

For starters, few horses are ready to fire their best shot after seven months on the shelf. I realize his status as a Grade 1 winner forces the racing secretary's hand a bit in setting the weights. But in this case, a horse who hasn't won since last May and is completely unproven on grass is giving up to eight pounds to everyone else in the field -- nine if also-eligible Baryishnikov draws in. And it isn't like he's made a huge class drop into a restricted stakes; the Firecracker is still a Grade 2 event.

I don't particularly like Mine That Bird's pedigree for the grass, either.

It isn't that his ancestors have been hopeless on the surface. His sire's second dam, Hush Dear (Silent Screen-You All, by Nashua) twice won both the Long Island and Diana handicaps, Grade 2 events, on the lawn. But in his first two seasons at stud, Birdstone's get's average Ragozin figure on dirt (20 3/4) is rather better than their turf figures (22); and neither is as impressive as I'd have expected considering the sire's stakes success among his young. Speaking of that stakes success by Birdstone's get, virtually none of it has been on turf. And Birdstone's sire, Grindstone, a Kentucky Derby winner now banished to Oregon, hasn't particularly been known for getting grass horses at stud.

On the bottom side, Mine That Bird's dam, Mining My Own, is by Smart Strike, who can certainly get a turf horse (grass champion English Channel, etc.). And she's out of a Vice Regent mare in Aspenelle, which doesn't eliminate the notion of turf. But Mining My Own never raced, so we don't know what her particularly affinities might have been in competition. And her one blacktype sibling, Golden Sunray, was a stakes winner on dirt.

Then there's the difficulty of facing the rest of a 14-horse field with plenty of tough turf competition.

Morning-line second choice Tizdejavu (4/1) has three prior graded wins on grass, earned six of his seven lifetime victories on turf, and has annexed at least three blacktype races over this very Churchill course, once already this season, during which he's 2-for-2. Why he isn't favored and why he's getting three pounds from Mine That Bird at 119 is hard for me to explain, though imposts are hardly my specialty.

Inca King (6/1) has at least three Churchill turf stakes wins in his long and successful career. Euroears (also 6/1) has experienced most of his success on dirt, but does have a turf-sprint stakes win. Co-8/1-choices Public Speaker and Attempted Humor have credible turf form on which to draw; the former a grass stakes winner and the latter never off the board on the lawn in five tries. Longer-shot Skipadate (12/1) broke maiden on grass, was a Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf entrant in 2009 (11th place) and has two recent allowance wins on grass.

Sheesh, 20/1 shots include Orthodox, a G3 turf winner at Churchill who only carries 114 Sunday under journeyman Jon Court, and British-bred Driving Snow, a minor grass stakes winner in the States and the only horse ever to defeat sublime European champion Sea the Stars, as 2-year-old maidens in the U.K.

Which begs the question, could Lukas have possibly picked a more difficult comeback race for a horse he's been asked to turn completely around?

I can't say I'd be completely blown away by news that Mine That Bird won the Firecracker. But I suspect the best he can come out of this race with is a learning experience -- both for horse and connections, to see if turf is ever again in his future -- and hopefully an outing that sparks a successful second half to 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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