Why Mine That Bird Can Win the Belmont Stakes

Duane WinnCorrespondent IMay 31, 2009

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 07:  Da'Tara ridden by jockey Alan Garcia comes down the final stretch on his way to winning the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7, 2008 in Elmont, New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Revisionists are everywhere, especially in the field of thoroughbred racing.

They busied themselves moments after the running of this year's Kentucky Derby, deconstructing Mine That Bird's miracle run down the stretch to capture the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Washington Post columnist Andrew Beyer called it "one of the biggest upsets in the history of American racing.

"In my four decades of covering the sport, it ranks as one of the most mystifying results in a major stakes race, along with Canonero II's victory in the 1971 Derby," Beyer wrote in a column two days after this year's Kentucky Derby.

Beyer noted that a confluence of several factors contributed to "the perfect storm" represented by Mine That Bird's victory.

Mine That Bird, for one thing, took advantage of a gutsy ride by Calvin Borel, the only jockey who seemed to realize that being close to the rail was the place to be.

The colt also relished the sloppy conditions of the race more than any other horse in the race, as evidenced by his shockingly easy victory of nearly seven widening lengths.

Finally, Beyer said the mediocre speed figures compiled by the horses leading up to the race compelled him to the conclusion that this year's field was one of the softest in history—any horse could have won, given the right set of circumstances.

Beyer, considered the godfather of modern speed handicapping, wasn't being unkind. He's spent a lifetime of looking beyond the surface appearance of things to arrive at the truth.

But even Beyer became a mild convert to Mine That Bird's cause when the gelding raced his heart out to finish a rapidly closing second to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness.

With Rachel Alexandra out of the Belmont picture, Mine That Bird is poised to reap his just desserts if he can capture the final leg of the Triple Crown.

He will likely be the overwhelming betting favorite on Saturday—he will certainly be the sentimental favorite.

Mine That Bird is the type of racehorse that captivates the racing public. He's a classic closer, seemingly waiting at the back until the last possible second to launch a breathtaking, do-or-die rush.

However, closers don't fare all that well in the Belmont Stakes, even if the distance is a generous one-and-a-half miles.

Belmont Stakes victory almost always goes to a runner that remains in contact with the field early and has only a few lengths to make up to pass the front runners in the final half mile. Most Belmont winners stay with the leaders until midway around the far turn, and only get asked for their very best in one final drive.

Mine That Bird had shown the ability to run closer to the place earlier in his career. Then trainer Chip Wooley took over his care and transformed him into this generation's Silky Sullivan. If his handlers feel the need to stay in touch with the pack, one wonders whether Mine That Bird will have enough energy at the finish.

Mine That Bird is a son of Birdstone, the winner of both the Belmont and the Travers, so stamina shouldn't be a question. His fitness will be, though.

Other than Flying Private, Mine That Bird, who will hook up once again with jockey Borel, is the only horse to take part in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. The Belmont will make their third grueling race within 35 days, a distinct disadvantage when one considers that several of the other probables in the race will come into the race with plenty of rest.

Post position also may be a concern if Mine That Bird draws an inside lane. Only four of the past 25 Belmont winners have started from either the first or second post.

However, Mine That Bird, as the only winner of a Grade One Stakes in the field, may enjoy enough of a class advantage to overcome any obstacles.