Mine That Bird gives horse racing a lift
By Mike Lopresti, Gannett
LOUISVILLE — All those who bet big on Mine That Bird to win the
Kentucky Derby, is the party still going?
For you, the recession is over.
A 50-1 shot came home first at Churchill Downs Saturday. It's 50-1
that double cheeseburgers will officially be declared a health food.
It's 50-1 that I wake up tomorrow and can dunk.
Mine That Bird became a winning lottery ticket Saturday evening. But
know who really hit the jackpot on a cloudy, sloppy afternoon in
Horse racing. Boy, how this sport needed a day just like this one.
Last year, you might recall, the Kentucky Derby was about death.
This year, the Kentucky Derby is about hope.
Last year, the racing community trudged away from Churchill Downs,
groggy from a nightmare.
This year, it hops and dances away, having watched Rocky on four legs.
Last year, the runner-up horse, Eight Belles broke down seconds after
the race and died on the track, with two fractured ankles.
This year, the winner could have flown across the finish line and
nobody would have been any more astounded.
The horse? Mine That Bird was a longer shot than facing west tomorrow
morning to see the sunrise.
The trainer? Chip Woolley, not exactly the best-known horseman in town.
"They'll know me now, won't they?" Woolley said. He was the one on
crutches, with a broken leg from a motorcycle accident.
Much better the winning trainer with the fracture than the runner-up
As the newest Kentucky Derby champion, Mine That Bird comes with even
more oddities than roses.
He was originally purchased for $9,500. You could buy four front-row
tickets at Yankee Stadium for that.
He finished 12th in the Breeders Cup last year as a 2-year-old, which
did not exactly stamp him as a Derby front-runner.
Woolley drove the horse to Kentucky himself from New Mexico in a
trailer hitched to the back of a Ford pickup, which broke down in
Sweetwater, Texas. Took 21 hours.
Coming out of the gate, he was jostled worse than a man trying to get
onto a New York subway at rush hour, and came down the home stretch
the first time running last, barely in the same ZIP code as the
"I about quit watching," Woolley said.
Jockey Calvin Borel was able to slide Mine That Bird through a crack
in the field that didn't look large enough for a poodle. "He had
enough room," Borel said. "He's a small horse."
So to sum up, a discount gelding that traveled here on a budget,
driven 2,000 miles by a trainer and former rodeo rider on a bad leg,
ran away from a field of millionaires?
And riding him was a jockey who won the Kentucky Derby two years ago
but couldn't get a better assignment than a 50-1 shot and had never
seen the horse before last Monday?
And all this done with hard times as a backdrop (not that the mint
juleps still weren't going for $9)?
Move over, Seabiscuit.
"Really and truly," Borel said, "you've got to be surprised."