Of the 14 starters that will enter the gates at the Preakness, none will be more watched than Kentucky Derby Winner Mine That Bird.
Bennie Woolley Jr., the trainer of the 50-1 long-shot Derby winner, has said that the gelding will be at Pimlico to attempt to win the second leg of the Triple Crown on May 16.
"The Triple Crown is good for racing, and without the Derby winner, there is no chance to have one," Woolley Jr. said. I've never been to Baltimore, but it looks like I won't be able to say that in a few days."
Mine That Bird, ridden by Calvin Borel, was the only gelding in the Kentucky Derby. After the largest margin of victory (6 3/4 lengths) since Assault in 1946, Mine That Bird gave no indication that he came out of the Derby any worse for wear.
Despite saying that there was “no obligation” to run in the Preakness, it appears that Woolley and Mine That Bird’s owners took the advice of one of racing's most recognizable figures, Bob Baffert.
Baffert, trainer of Pioneer of the Nile, had these words for Mine That Bird’s crew on Sunday night, “If Mine That Bird is OK, go for it!”
Anyone who has watched anything to do with horse racing over the past decade has been reminded at every turn that no horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
There have been a slew of failed Triple Crown attempts this decade, with Big Brown being the latest to fail just last year.
After winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Big Brown finished last in the Belmont, all but destroying any endorsement deal with UPS.
In the last 10 years, there have been four other failed attempts at the Triple Crown aside from Big Brown.
Charismatic suffered an injury in the final stretch of the Belmont in 1999, and finished a tough third.
In 2002, War Emblem stumbled out of the gates at the Belmont and finished in eighth place, never able to gain the lead after his initial fall.
2003 saw Funny Cide, a New York-bred gelding with blood-ties to Seattle Slew emerge as the next challenger to the Triple Crown. After a vigorous tune-up on the Tuesday before the Belmont, Funny Cide came up short to a well-rested Empire Maker and finished in third.
For the third straight year, 2004, a horse won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and headed to Belmont with a shot at history. Smarty Jones, like so many before him, fell short as well and lost to Bird Stone.
Perhaps it is fate that a bird shall rise again at the Belmont, but in order to have that chance, Mine That Bird will have to best a field of 13 other horses that includes some new, as well as some old, faces.
From the Kentucky Derby, Papa Clem (4th), Pioneer of the Nile (2nd), Musket Man (3rd), Join in the Dance (7th) and General Quarters (10th), are all expected to be in the starting gates at Pimlico.
As for newcomers, possibilities include Delta Jackpot winner Big Drama, Withers winner Mr. Fantasy, Take the Points and Miner’s Escape.
It will be a tough field, but if this long shot taught us anything at Churchill, it’s that we shouldn’t count him out.
"He's plenty of horse," Borel said.
Plenty of horse…that’s exactly what it takes to win a Triple Crown, and with a name like Mine That Bird, what’s not to love!