Last weekend's Whitney did not disappoint, as the top two handicap males in the country put on a terrific display for fans at Saratoga. But lost in the shuffle of the photo finish was the fifth-place effort of Mine That Bird, who was never a factor.
Mine That Bird finished 12 1/2 lengths back of Blame, but it might as well have been 30. He never ran a lick. Like his previous three starts, there was no legitimate excuse.
Dating back to last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, Mine That Bird has been beaten a total of 31 lengths. Since winning the 2009 Kentucky Derby he is winless in seven starts. What is my point?
It is not to disparage a former Derby winner and a horse that many people grew to love, but it is to simply point out that he does not belong in grade I company anymore. At least not right now. Is there anyone that disagrees with that?
We have debated many times before about whether or not Mine That Bird's Derby win was a fluke. That is a matter of opinion, but what is indisputable is that he was in good form throughout last year's Triple Crown races--turning in three solid efforts. Since then, he has never been close and things don't figure to get any better unless he is dropped into company where he belongs.
Since finishing an average sixth in the Goodwood Stakes last October, it is questionable at best to think about how Mine That Bird's career has been handled. Racing him in the BC Classic was a puzzling decision. He was obviously a tired horse at that point and most of us at Santa Anita that week could see it.
After given time off at the start of his 4-year-old campaign, Mine That Bird was taken away from trainer Chip Woolley. It was an inexplicable decision to almost everyone, especially his legion of fans. Derby winners have been taken away from trainers before, but the circumstances of this particular decision have never been fully revealed and it certainly came as a surprise to Woolley himself. At the very least, the feel-good part of the story ended when he was taken away from the guy on crutches who shipped the little gelding across country in his van to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Derby history. What have you done for me lately?
Even more puzzling was D. Wayne Lukas' decision to start Mine That Bird back in the July 4 Firecracker Handicap on turf in his first start of the season. Lukas tried to start his new charge in an allowance race a week earlier on the dirt, but after it failed to fill opted for a race that had a full field of 14 on a surface the horse had never started on before while coming off an eight-month layoff. Talk about putting your horse in a tough spot. Hmm...
Speaking of tough spots, the Whitney could not have been any more difficult. Facing the top two handicap males in the country is a near impossible task for any horse, especially one that is not in great form. Is there anyone that really believed he had a chance to win that race? Apparently so, he went off at 9-1.
There has been no word from Lukas as of yet about where Mine That Bird will go next. Before the Whitney he talked about the Woodward, another grade I race that will likely include Quality Road again. For his fans' sake, let's hope Lukas has a change of heart. There are plenty of viable options for him.
It's not an embarrassment to win a grade III, a listed stakes, or even an optional claimer. Remember, Funny Cide won an optional claimer at the start of his 4-year-old season before going on to win the Excelsior and Jockey Club Gold Cup that year. There is no crime in that.
This horse needs a win by any means necessary. With each subsequent loss, it can be argued that his reputation is further tarnished. In my opinion, they should take some of the pressure off, put him in a winnable race, and then move up the ladder.
Right now he is in over his head.