All three winners of this year’s Triple Crown races will be in action on the weekend at two different tracks. Three big graded stakes totaling $2.5 million have attracted some top 3-year-olds to Mountaineer, Saratoga and Monmouth.
On Saturday, Kentucky Derby champ Mine That Bird goes in the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. The 40th renewal at 1 1/8 miles is valued at $750,000.
It will be the son of Birdstone’s first outing in eight weeks since running third to Summer Bird in the Belmont Stakes. No horse has crossed the wire on top in Mountaineer’s premier events off such a lengthy layoff.
Mine That Bird “had three hard races back-to-back (he ran second to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness) and we wanted to give him plenty of time to settle and build up again,” said trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr.
There was a time when one to three weeks between races was considered a sufficient break, “but modern training methods have changed,” said Mark Patterson, assistant racing secretary at Mountaineer. “An eight-week regimen comprised of only workouts and gallops means we were the primary objective for Mine That Bird.”
On Monday, the gelding breezed four furlongs in 49 4/5. “He was really sharp, we got just about exactly what we wanted out of him,” Wooley said.
The previous best Kentucky Derby finisher in the Grade 2 was Hudson County, second to Cannonade in 1974, who ran sixth.
Outside of Wooley’s horse, the field isn’t very strong except for Big Drama, winning six of nine career starts. The son of Montbrook finished fifth in the Preakness, but rebounded with a seven-length victory in the seven-furlong Red Legend Stakes at Charles Town on June 20.
On Sunday, Big Drama posted a bullet breeze of 49 seconds for a half-mile at Monmouth before being vanned to West Virginia.
On Saturday, Saratoga features the $500,000 Jim Dandy that recognizes the 100-1 upset winner of ’30 Triple Crown champ Gallant Fox in the Travers. The Grade 2 at 1 1/8 miles is the main prep for the historic Aug. 29 event, oldest stakes race for 3-year-olds in the nation.
The top three finishers in the Dwyer, headed by trainer Steve Asmussen’s Kensei, will take on likely favorite Charitable Man, fourth to Belmont States winner Summer Bird.
Meanwhile, Summer Bird goes Sunday in the 42nd renewal of the $1.25 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth. Another son of Birdstone faces Preakness champ Rachel Alexandra in the 1 1/8-mile contest.
Horses that hit the board in seven of the past dozen Triple Crown events captured the Haskell, including four that scored at least once. Three won two Triple Crown legs: Big Brown, ’08 Derby and Preakness; War Emblem, ’02 Derby and Preakness; and Point Given, ’01 Preakness and Belmont.
Rachel Alexandra worked Monday at Saratoga, breezing a half-mile in 49 1/5. It was the fourth consecutive Monday breeze on the Oklahoma training track. On July 20, the daughter of Medaglia d’ Oro went six furlongs in a bullet 1:13 4/5 and galloped out seven furlongs in 1:27 2/5.
“She does things so easily,” Scott Blasi, Asmussen’s assistant, said after that breeze. “She has settled in here perfectly, she has put on weight and she is a picture of health. We’re right on target for the Haskell.”
Summer Bird put in his final work on Sunday, breezing five furlongs in 1:01 4/5 on a muddy Monmouth surfaces. “He had a good strong work and he galloped out strong,” trainer Tim Ice said. “Everything was great. I couldn’t be happier.”
Other starters in the seven-horse field are Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem, fourth in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness; Long Branch victor Atomic Rain, 16th in the Derby; Munnings, who whipped older horses in Belmont’s Tom Fool; Duke of Mischief, winner of Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows; and Bunker Hill, runner-up to Big Drama in the Red Legend, who won twice last year at Monmouth.