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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Woolley to choose 'Bird' jockey by Monday

Borel wants Derby winner, but only if Rachel Alexandra doesn't do Belmont.

By Marty McGee
Daily Racing Form

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The jockey drama involving Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird will come to a merciful end no later than Monday, said trainer Chip Woolley, adding that his request for a firm answer from Calvin Borel by that time "is fair enough."

Borel, the Churchill Downs-based jockey who rode Mine That Bird to win the May 2 Derby, then got off him to ride Rachel Alexandra to win the Preakness last Saturday, is wanting to get the mount back on Mine That Bird for the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, the June 6 Belmont Stakes — but only if Rachel Alexandra, as has been widely speculated, does not run in the Belmont.

Rachel Alexandra is tentatively scheduled to work out at Churchill on Monday, but owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen have not committed to making a determination regarding the Belmont at that time — or any other specific time in the near future. Standard procedure for Asmussen runners is to work nine days after a race. Rachel Alexandra, with Asmussen here to oversee her, went back to the track for the first time since the Preakness when having a routine one-mile gallop Wednesday morning at Churchill.

Asmussen has allowed that he is not looking at the Belmont with the same "urgency" as he did the Preakness for the superstar filly. Likewise, Jackson, who purchased the filly privately on May 7, has not seemed particularly eager to run her back in the Belmont.

The noncommittal stance that Jackson and Asmussen have taken clearly has left Borel and his agent, Jerry Hissam, in a lurch. Whichever horse he rides, Borel will be shooting for an unprecedented Triple Crown sweep by a jockey riding different horses.

"I just can't make any comment right now," said Hissam.

Woolley, speaking Wednesday morning just a few yards outside the Barn 42 stall where Mine That Bird is stabled, said he is not surprised at the time it is taking to sort out who will ride Mine That Bird, who figures as a solid Belmont favorite if Rachel Alexandra does not run.

"I've been asked if it makes me mad, and I say, 'Not specifically,'" said Woolley. "This is a business. It's not about friendships or anything else like that. You can't let your emotions affect your business."

Woolley said he has been besieged with "calls from all over the United States, not just from jockey agents" eager to get the Belmont mount on Mine That Bird in case Borel cannot commit, "but also from reporters and even from my friends back home. Everybody's asking, 'Who are you going to ride?' "

Meanwhile, Woolley said Mine That Bird will be flown, and not vanned, from Louisville to New York for the Belmont. Thus one of the more quaint storylines of the Triple Crown series will be lost for the third leg, as a lot of fanfare has been made of the fact that Woolley himself — with his fractured right leg in a cast - drove the gelding nearly 1,500 miles from New Mexico to Churchill, and then again on the round trip from Louisville to Baltimore for the Preakness.

"I've been told by too many people that the traffic up there is too heavy to risk having him in a van for as long as it might take," said Woolley. And so Mine That Bird will be flown on a Tex Sutton charter flight from Louisville to New York on the morning of June 3, three days before the Belmont.

Woolley, who makes his home in New Mexico, will continue living in a hotel near Churchill until he travels separately from Mine That Bird on a June 3 commercial flight to New York.

Drawn to the limelight

Borel was the special guest Tuesday on the "Five Good Minutes" segment of the popular "Pardon the Interruption" show on ESPN. One question from hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon concerned which famous person Borel would now like to meet, considering he met the queen of England at a Washington, D.C., state dinner a few days after winning the 2007 Derby aboard Street Sense.

"Aww, nobody," responded Borel, quickly adding that he wished his late mother and father could see what he has accomplished in his life.

The next morning, Woolley said he was not familiar with the show and had a different take on what fame really means.

"You're not famous until Peb draws you," said Woolley, referring to Daily Racing Form caricaturist Pierre "Peb" Bellocq, who featured Woolley prominently in his front-cover cartoon for the Preakness.

* At Keeneland, Mr. Hot Stuff was the lone Belmont prospect to work Wednesday, going a half-mile in 49.80 seconds over the main Polytrack surface. Mr. Hot Stuff, owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Eoin Harty, finished 15th in the Derby in his last start.

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