First Kentucky, now West Virginia.
Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird will attempt to add the West Virginia Derby to his resume Saturday in the gelding's first race since the end of grueling Triple Crown trail.
"He seems to be on top of his game," trainer Chip Woolley said, "so we're pretty happy with where he's at right now."
In May, Woolley was in heaven after Mine That Bird won the Derby at 50-1 odds; a win at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort would be almost heaven.
Mine That Bird is the 3-5 favorite in a field of six 3-year-olds, which includes 8-5 second choice Big Drama. Also entered are Monty's Best, Awesome Rhythm and the Steve Asmussen entry of Soul Warrior and Sunday Sunrise.
After the Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird was beaten a length in the Preakness by the filly Rachel Alexandra, and then ran third to Summer Bird in the Belmont Stakes on June 6.
Now it's time for the second season in the 1 1-8-mile West Virginia Derby _ a race playing host to a Kentucky Derby winner for the first time in its 40 editions.
Mike Smith, who replaced Calvin Borel on Mine That Bird for the Preakness, will be aboard the gelding again in the $750,000 race. Borel will ride Rachel Alexandra in Sunday's $1.25 million Haskell Invitational _ a race Woolley passed on because the West Virginia track better suits the come-from-behind running style of Mine That Bird.
"I think the race fits him better here than it does over there," Woolley said. "Monmouth Park is a really, really fast race track. Horses have a tendency to win on the lead over there.
"He's a big closer. So I think he'll do OK (in West Virginia). My horse has to run his race. You can't really go by what the other horses are doing."
Woolley arrived last week and has put Mine That Bird through a series of morning gallops to get him familiar with the track. After the West Virginia Derby, Mine That Bird's schedule has him in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 29 _ with a possible matchup with Rachel Alexandra and Summer Bird _ and a year-end goal of the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 7.
Smith returns to the West Virginia Derby for the first time since finishing sixth on Wanna Runner in 2006. He said the small field could present challenges, especially if Big Drama grabs the early lead without a challenge.
"It's kind of a double-edged sword," Smith said. "There's less horses to beat, not as much traffic to get through. But then you worry about the pace of the race. The more horses in there, the more pace there usually is. But I'm sure it will work out for him. If he runs his race, he's going to be tough to beat."
Big Drama won the Delta Jackpot as a 2-year-old, and finished fifth in the Preakness. Awesome Rhythm's four wins in 11 starts have come at his home track at Woodbine over a synthetic surface.
Woolley can only hope Saturday's race goes smoother than when he first pulled into Chester last week after a 380-mile van ride.
After driving more than six hours, his van's GPS ended Woolley's trip at a neighborhood intersection. A track employee spotted the van and diverted Woolley a few miles to the track.
Less than 24 hours after his arrival, Woolley went toward Mine That Bird's stable for a feeding when the trainer was stopped by track security because a license was required for entry.
"The only thing I asked them was to let me feed my horse and they said 'nope,'" Woolley said. "So we had to go through a licensing process while my horse stood down there with no food. That doesn't happen anywhere in the world with a $5,000 horse, much less a winner of the Derby."
The field, from the rail out: Soul Warrior (Miguel Mena, 15-1), Mine That Bird (Mike Smith, 3-5), Awesome Rhythm (James McAleney, 12-1), Sunday Sunrise (Corey Lanerie, 15-1), Big Drama (Eibar Coa, 8-5), Monty's Best (Reade Baker, 10-1).