In the aftermath of a weekend that saw their connections linked in controversy, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and runner-up Pioneerof the Nile still couldn't distance themselves from one another Monday.
The 1-2 finishers in the 135th Kentucky Derby were once again sharing the Churchill Downs oval as each hit the track for their final Preakness Stakes tuneups.
Mine That Bird and Pioneerof the Nile both worked 4 furlongs Monday after the renovation break, covering the distances in :491⁄5 and :473⁄5, respectively.
Trainer Bennie "Chip" Woolley originally did not plan to work Mine That Bird before the Preakness, but he called an audible to take the edge off the gelded son of Birdstone.
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"We just wanted to let him stretch his legs," Woolley said of the move. He kind of bounced back (from the Derby) a little faster than we thought and we didn't want him getting too high."
Borel, who guided Mine That Bird to his Derby triumph, was aboard for Monday's work even though the veteran jockey has committed to ride Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra should the filly start in the Preakness.
If Rachel Alexandra is entered, Mike Smith will get the call aboard Mine That Bird.
"Calvin will have the call on my horse right up to the time entries are taken. If the filly is entered, then Mike Smith will have the mount," Woolley said. "Mike watched the Derby. He saw how the horse ran and knows the kind of running style he has. We're confident that he'd do his job well."
Trainer Bob Baffert was extremely high on what he saw from Pioneerof the Nile as the son of Empire Maker posted splits of :121⁄5, :241⁄5 and :361⁄5, then galloped out five furlongs in 1:001⁄5 in his first move since his second-place effort in the Derby.
"He was full of himself and he really wanted to work ... He looked great," Baffert said. "I look for him to come back and run another big race."
That the focus was back on their horses for the time being was a welcome relief for both Baffert and Woolley considering the events that preceded them less than 24 hours earlier.
Much drama was created on Sunday when Ahmed Zayat, owner of Pioneerof the Nile, and Mark Allen, co-owner of Mine That Bird, said in an interview on HRTV they had discussed entering other horses in order to exclude Rachel Alexandra from the Preakness.
Since Rachel Alexandra was not nominated to Triple Crown, her new owners — Jess Jackson and Harold T. McCormick — would have to pay a $100,000 supplemental fee and hope no more than the maximum of 14 horses enter in order for the bay filly to make the field.
Within hours of announcing their plans — and getting hit with much industry outcry — both Allen and Zayat scrapped that idea. However, the controversy over having the two owners potentially work together to keep the filly out was still lingering over their charges on Monday.
"That's no issue — that was something that was just being mulled around and never really got any legs," Baffert said. "I think it stems from Calvin Borel — I've never seen a jockey take off a Derby winner. So that's where it all started. But it's dead — it's a dead issue, so we won't even talk about it."
Added Woolley, "I respect what they're doing (in backing off) because it's probably the best thing for the sport. "I'm glad they've made that decision."
In a statement he released Sunday night, Allen explained, "after consulting with my Dad and (co-owner Leonard) Blach, I have decided to withdraw (maiden colt) Indy Express to prevent any further misunderstandings. Their advice to me was just to do what's right, because arrogance and greed isn't right."
The path was further cleared for Rachel Alexandra to get into the Preakness when it was announced Monday that Hull, undefeated winner of the Derby Trial, would skip the middle jewel of the Triple Crown in favor of the Grade II Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard on June 6.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Marylou Whitney's colt Luv Gov was still on course for the Preakness, but that the colt will not be entered if his presence would have an impact on Rachel Alexandra being able to compete.
"Let me make this crystal clear, there is no controversy," Lukas said. "We entered and I told Coley Blind, the stakes coordinator, that we would enter only if there was no controversy with the filly and we did not exclude her. If in any way, shape or form she is excluded because of our entry, then we will not enter. We are not trying to keep the filly out."