ARCADIA, Calif. -- The surroundings are familiar, but, boy, how things have changed since Mine That Bird first came to Santa Anita a year ago.
After being privately purchased, he was sent to Santa Anita just days before the 2008 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and showed how ill-prepared he was for the endeavor, racing wide throughout and finishing last of 12. Few noticed him come, fewer still probably noticed him leaving.
But a funny thing happened between now and then. He won the Kentucky Derby.
That is his only victory in six starts this year, but if you're going to win one, that's a good one to choose. Mine That Bird has returned to Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting for the Grade 1, $350,000 Goodwood Stakes on Saturday, and a solid performance in the Goodwood will propel him to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7. The winner of the Goodwood receives an automatic berth to the Classic through the Win and You're In program.
His popularity, and that of his trainer, Chip Woolley, is sky high. Woolley, still seemingly unaffected by his sudden celebrity, has done all manner of interviews, his trusty black hat in tow. This week, Woolley agreed to have a security camera installed above Mine That Bird's stall, and the video is streamed over the web at www.oaktreeracing.com, so fans can watch Mine That Bird whenever they want.
But when Mine That Bird lines up for the 1 1/8-mile Goodwood, he will have plenty of questions to answer. The Goodwood will mark his first start against older horses. It will be his first race since Aug. 1. And it will be his first race since undergoing throat surgery that forced him out of the Travers Stakes on Aug. 29.
Mine That Bird drew the outside post in a field of 10, though with his late-running style, that should not matter. He is being reunited with jockey Calvin Borel, who rode him in the Derby and to a third-place finish in the Belmont. But in a curious decision that mirrors the Belmont, Borel has no mounts on the undercard preceding the Goodwood on a track with which he is unfamiliar.
The Goodwood drew a good field, including Richard's Kid, the upset winner of the Pacific Classic, and Colonel John, who won the 2008 Santa Anita Derby. Yet the focal point will be Mine That Bird, the lone 3-year-old in the field.
"As a rule, the top 3-year-olds transition well. Summer Bird ran a big race," Woolley said, referring to last week's Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Woolley said Mine That Bird has progressed in his training over the Pro-Ride surface. He has had two works since arriving late last month.
"The horse just looks like he gets over it super," Woolley said. "If you go back and analyze his Breeders' Cup race from last year, I've told everybody that we got the horse in here a little late and that wasn't really giving him his best shot. But also he chased the pace almost five wide all the way around there and really didn't get a real good trip. So we were a little disappointed, but I think with a better trip the horse likes the racetrack okay."
The key, Woolley said, is the ride.
"Keep getting him back, be patient, make one move, and make it count," he said.
Colonel John is 3 for 5 at Santa Anita. He comes off a brutal trip in the Pacific Classic, in which he was blocked at a critical point on the far turn, then re-rallied to finish fifth.
"That was a tough race to watch," said his trainer, Eoin Harty.
Eastern-based Parading, fourth in the Pacific Classic, remained on the West Coast under the care of Robbie Medina, an assistant to trainer Shug McGaughey.
"He worked really good on Sunday," Medina said. "No excuses. He's going to be tough to beat. He's training great over this track."
Tres Borrachos is the one to catch. He tired badly in the Pacific Classic, but the shorter distance of the Goodwood, and no obvious rival for the front end, should help him.
British invader Gitano Hernando is an intriguing longshot. He was 2 for 2 on synthetic surfaces in his native land.
Monzante is making his second start since a layoff of more than one year. He can move forward.
Tiago also is making his second start following a lengthy layoff. He was second in this race last year, then third in the BC Classic.