Mine That Bird back at Churchill under Lukas' watch
Mine That Bird, the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, was back on the track at Churchill Downs on Friday for the first time in nearly 10 months. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas took over the horse's training from Chip Woolley Jr. this past week.
"The bigger challenge is with a horse with great potential that can't run," Lukas said shortly after Mine That Bird stepped off the trailer and walked around the shedrow on Thursday night. "We know this horse can run. He tailed off at the end of last year and now we can try to put him back on top."
Lukas liked what he saw of Mine That Bird when he arrived.
"He has been training at altitude, and he may be fitter than a horse coming from Lexington," Lukas said.
Exercise rider Arielle Witkowski took Mine That Bird six furlongs on Friday. "First time I've ever been on a Derby winner," Witkowski said.
"I think he looks better than I have ever seen him," Lukas said. "I am very pleased with what I see."
The Breeders' Cup Classic, to be run at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6, is the ultimate goal for Mine That Bird, and owner Mark Allen said he hopes the gelding has at least three starts beforehand.
"We will work backward from the Breeders' Cup to make sure we look good here," Lukas said. "I'm sure the Whitney (Aug. 7) is going to jump out there and maybe the Suburban (July 3) at Belmont could be another possibility. Then they've got the Salvatore Mile (also July 3) at Monmouth Park, so there are plenty of options."
■ Quality Road will have his final tuneup on Tuesday for Memorial Day's Grade I Metropolitan Handicap.
"He's done everything you would expect him to do, in maturing, from age 3 to age 4," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "But, then, he's always been such a good-looking horse."
Quality Road will be making his first start since a 12¾-length victory in the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 6.
"I'm pleased with the break he got and pleased with the way he's coming into the race."
Quality Road is 6-2-1 from nine starts, including a victory in the Grade III Hal's Hope in January in his only other race as a 4-year-old.
Spangled Star to run in Belmont
Spangled Star, third in the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct on April 24, will make his next start in the Belmont Stakes, owner Lawrence P. Roman said Thursday.
"He seems to be getting a little better with every start," Roman said of the son of Distorted Humor. "He's lightly raced and he's bred to go the distance. When I bought him, I had the Belmont Stakes in mind. For most people the Kentucky Derby is the race they want to win the most, but for me that race is the Belmont."
Roman remains realistic when he assesses Spangled Star's chances of winning the Belmont.
"No one in the field has gone a mile-and-a-half," Roman said. "I expect him to be a long shot, but other long shots like Da' Tara have won it in recent years."
■ Make Music for Me, who rallied from last to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby in his most recent start, is scheduled to work one mile Sunday morning at Belmont Park in preparation for the Belmont Stakes on June 5. Joel Rosario, who was aboard in the Kentucky Derby, is scheduled to ride Make Music for Me in the Belmont.
■ Following a fifth-place finish in a turf allowance Thursday at Belmont, Shortleaf Stable's New Madrid will skip the Belmont Stakes, trainer Tim Ice said Friday. "He needed to show me more yesterday than he did," Ice said.
■ Trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed Friday that the filly Devil May Care, 10th in the Kentucky Derby, would not run in the Belmont and instead await the Grade I Mother Goose Stakes on June 26.
Here Comes Ben with the win
Here Comes Ben tracked down pacesetters Accredit and Loch Dubh on the far turn and cruised to a 5¼-length victory in Friday's featured $53,570 Trover's Client Solutions Purse at Churchill Downs.
■ Defending champion Brass Hat will face 10 horses in Saturday's Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs. The race is 1½ miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Women's semi-pro league tips off
A new semi-professional women's basketball team with some familiar names from the area has started up and will play its home opener on Saturday. The Lexington Lightning will meet the Detroit Dolphins at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Shirley Allen Cunningham Jr. Family Foundation Gym at 4050 Georgetown Road. The Lightning are a part of the new Women's Blue Chip Basketball League.
Several former Lexington high school players are on the roster, including Henry Clay's Erica Coleman and Nastassia Alcius, who also played at the University of Kentucky, as well as Tates Creek standouts Brittany Pittman and Philnisha Lindsey and former Paul Dunbar star Annbruce Madden.
■ Louisiana State point guard Bo Spencer was ruled academically ineligible for the fall semester. Coach Trent Johnson announced Friday that the Tigers will be without their leading returning scorer and lone returning senior when the season starts. Spencer, who averaged 14.5 points last season, will have to pass courses in the fall to become eligible for the spring semester.
■ Jeff Jordan's on-again, off-again basketball career at Illinois is over. Michael Jordan's eldest son has been given his release to transfer to another school. Jeff Jordan left the Illini last June but changed his mind and rejoined the team for his junior season. He averaged 13.8 minutes last season.
■ Former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the WNBA's Atlanta Dream to a 97-82 win over the Connecticut Sun on Friday. McCoughtry had 11 points in the opening period, helping the Dream shoot 61.8 percent for a 51-32 halftime lead.
Favre undergoes ankle surgery
Brett Favre posted a short statement on his Web site confirming he had arthroscopic ankle surgery, possibly clearing the way for the quarterback to return to the Minnesota Vikings next season.
Favre's future has been up in the air since the Vikings lost to New Orleans in the NFC championship game. He had said he would need ankle surgery if he wanted to play in 2010, but there was no word Friday about his playing career.
ESPN.com reported Dr. James Andrews cleaned up scar tissue in Favre's left ankle to increase his range of motion. The operation took place at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Fla.
■ Florida International baseball player Garrett Wittels matched the second-longest hitting streak in Division I history, getting a hit in his 47th straight game Friday night against Florida Atlantic. Wittels tied Wichita State's Phil Stephenson, who hit in 47 straight games in 1981. Oklahoma State's Robin Ventura holds the NCAA record with a 58-game streak in 1987.
■ Purdue held off Southern California on Friday to win its first NCAA women's golf team championship by one stroke, while Caroline Hedwall of Oklahoma State shot a 68 to win the individual title by four shots at Wilmington, N.C.
The last word
Peace might come to the Middle East before there's a truce between hockey fans in Toronto and Montreal. According to a survey, more than a quarter of Maple Leafs fans are refusing to root for the Canadiens — even though Montreal is the only Canadian team left in this year's Stanley Cup chase. Wrote Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star:
"If aliens show up wanting to enslave the entire human race, I will fight them. But if the extraterrestrial invaders announce ahead of time that the Montreal Canadiens are the first to go, I'm willing to talk."