Mine That Bird owner a cowpoke Mark Allen has the walk, the talk, the hat - and the Derby winner.

Posted: May 15, 2009

BALTIMORE — The horse came from nowhere, right up the rail, but what about the owner?

Mark Allen, front man for Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, has a cowboy's gait and a black hat, a scruffy graying beard and a new belt with some can't-miss words - 135th Kentucky Derby - emblazoned on the buckle.

Allen first got close to Mine That Bird's trainer in a New Mexico bar fight, doesn't want to talk about that corruption business in Alaska, and showed up at the Preakness on his Harley.

He admits he's having the time of his life.

"Just me and my cousin rode our Harleys," the 56-year-old said, mentioning that they'd followed Mine That Bird's trailer out of Louisville and kept up "for a ways, but they've got a longer range than us. They outrun us pretty hard."

Now that his horse is in the Preakness Stakes, he'd just as soon win it. After Rachel Alexandra's new owner began talking last week about running the filly in the Preakness, and jockey Calvin Borel said he'd ride the filly instead of the Derby winner, Allen had a plan to stop that. He talked to the owner of Pioneerof the Nile, the second-place Derby horse, about entering extra horses to keep the filly out. Their plan lasted most of an afternoon, until chivalry prevailed.

"I just wanted the rider back. What I was doing wasn't right," Allen said this week at Pimlico Race Course, talking right after the Preakness draw.

After going off at 50-1 in the Derby, Mine That Bird is 6-1 in the Preakness morning line, although the gelding doesn't have too many believing he can pull it off again tomorrow. The trainers beaten by him are still shaking their heads at what they saw at Churchill Downs.

"He came through a hole that wasn't there, and he finished as fast as Secretariat," said Larry Jones, Delaware Park-based trainer of Friesan Fire. "I'm hoping he can't do it again." The Derby favorite finished 18th two weeks ago but will try again tomorrow in the Preakness.

When Borel decided to stick with the filly he'd ridden to victory five times, the Mine That Bird team went for Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, who doesn't like the rail as much as Borel but knows how to rally a horse from far behind. He famously did it winning with Giacomo in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

The whole crew seems at ease with the limelight this week. Asked yesterday about that, trainer Chip Woolley agreed, saying, "You've got the Derby in the bag and they can't take it away."

Allen, from Roswell, N.M., owns the horse with a local veterinarian, Leonard Blach. They talked with Woolley about wanting a Sunland Derby horse when they purchased Mine That Bird for $400,000 last year. That race is the premier event at their hometrack in New Mexico. Mine That Bird made the race but finished fourth.

Allen admits to being proud to be from New Mexico.

"I've just always been a desert rat," Allen told Rick Maese of the Los Angeles Times. "The high desert has always been home. The people are friendly here, and I'm probably related to half the state."

He's gotten some press for a lucrative (misad)venture in Alaska. His father, Bill, ran the now-defunct Veco Corp., an oil-services and construction company. The elder Allen pleaded guilty to bribing politicians in Alaska and evidence came up at the trial that Mark Allen had bribed a state legislator. As part of his own plea agreement, Bill Allen got immunity for his son.

Bill Allen had turned Veco from a company with a dozen employees into a $1 billion operation. He also was the star witness in the corruption trial of Sen. Ted Stevens, testifying how he had given Stevens gifts. Mark Allen reportedly made $30 million from the sale of Veco Corp. in 2007.

"That don't have nothing to do with the horse," Allen said of the court proceedings in Alaska. "I appreciate the question, but I don't want to talk about that. I don't know enough to say nothing about it, so I won't talk about that, except to say my dad's a good man."

He'll talk about most other things. The morning after Mine That Bird won the Derby, Allen spoke of how he first got close to Woolley 25 years ago: "We were in a bar, and I started a fight, and he helped me out."

As stunned as anyone that his gelding won the Derby, Allen didn't mind talking about trying to keep Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness. If this hadn't been the second leg of racing's Triple Crown, if it was just some big stakes race, Allen said, he would have continued on with his plan to keep the filly out.

"It's hard to win a race," Allen said.

Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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