Kiaran McLaughlin checked out the little horse and decided he couldn't pass the eye test. McLaughlin was sitting out this Derby, but if he had entered Charitable Man, he would not have feared the shipper from New Mexico.
"He happened to be in the same barn I was in at Churchill," he said. "And to be honest, with Charitable Man and Mine That Bird, you're looking at a magnificent animal as opposed to a small gelding that cost $9,500 as a yearling."
Sometimes what they cost and what they look like don't matter. America learned that when the 50-1 shot came flying up the rail to win by 6¾ lengths. Like millions of others, McLaughlin wanted to see if Mine That Bird could do it again at Pimlico. He almost did, losing by a length to the filly Rachel Alexandra.
Mine That Bird (post 7) was made the 2-1 morning-line favorite at Wednesday's draw for Saturday's 141st Belmont Stakes. Charitable Man (3-1, post 6) and Dunkirk (4-1, post 2) are the second and third choices, with the other seven 10-1 or higher.
"Mine That Bird is a runner and a very nice horse. On Derby Day, the only thing I could think of was Calvin Borel gave a great ride and he loved the slop," McLaughlin said. "But after the Preakness, I have a lot more respect because he's a gutsy little horse who tries hard and might have won with a little cleaner trip."
Trainer Chip Woolley understood the almost universal skepticism about his little Bird.
Taking Mine That Bird far back to make one run was the path to glory in Louisville. He fell short in Baltimore, where new rider Mike Smith lost more ground than the length he lost by. With the filly skipping the Belmont, Borel is back on Mine That Bird and guaranteeing victory. His main rival is Charitable Man, who could get an uncontested lead and have plenty left when Mine That Bird rallies.
"It's going to be hard to catch a quality horse like Charitable Man if he gets a half in :49," said Todd Pletcher, Dunkirk's trainer. "That's my main concern, other than the fact that he's the horse to beat to begin with."
McLaughlin, who rarely talks up his horses, said he's trying hard not to sound cocky. "He couldn't be doing any better," he said. "It's a mile and a half, and he's never been that far, but I wouldn't trade places with anyone."
Woolley knows the race shape and longer distance might work against Mine That Bird. "We're not going to alter his style to try to fit a race, because anything you change is going to change his closing kick," he said.
"It's going to be imperative that we get the right trip and make our move at the right time. People think just because the Belmont is longer that it will suit my horse better. But you know history says that you need to be a little closer to the pace. So he's got his work cut out for him."