Taking wings in Derby
Mine That Bird posts stunning upset
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – No alleged expert picked him to win, and Mine That Bird was last of 19 after 6 furlongs, which surprised no one. Then the disrespected little gelding started picking off horses in a hurry as he shot up the rail with nothing in his path.
As many of the 153,563 at Churchill Downs asked, “Who’s the 8?” the 50-1 shot from New Mexico drew away by 63/4 lengths from Pioneerof the Nile on Saturday to capture the 135th Kentucky Derby.
Mine That Bird shot from 19th to 12th with a quarter-mile to go, but he still trailed front-running Join in the Dance by about 11 lengths. No problem, because at the eighth pole, Mine That Bird was in front by a length and home free.
“You’ve got a hole, you’ve got a shot,” rider Calvin Borel said. “I didn’t know he’d give me that kind of response, but I figured he was going to finish. It’s not the first half-mile that counts, it’s the last one.”
The winning trainer is Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr., a 45-year-old New Mexican. Who?
After Mine That Bird finished fourth and second in two minor stakes at Sunland Park in New Mexico, Woolley drove a Ford pickup truck pulling a horse trailer on a 21-hour, 1,700-mile trek to Louisville.
After an overnight stopover and a gallop at Lone Star Park near Dallas, it was on to America’s Race. Last year’s champion 2-year-old male in Canada was ignored, and his presence was widely questioned. In a field filled with automatic throwouts, Mine That Bird was considered one. How little we know.
Woolley wore a black cowboy hat and limped into the winner’s circle on crutches because he broke his right leg in a motorcycle accident. He was really walking on air.
“When they turned for home, I lost him,” he said. “I looked up at the eighth pole and he was already on the lead, and I was blown away.”
Mine That Bird paid $103.20 to win, behind only Donerail’s $184.90 in 1913.
“Yeah, it’s wonderful,” Woolley said. “It hasn’t sunk in. I’m feeling like I never have before.”
The son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone ran 11/4 miles on a sloppy track in 2:02.66. Mine That Bird’s fifth win in nine starts, and first in three this year, was worth $1,417,200 to Double Eagle Farm and Buena Suerte Equine, who bought him for $400,000.
Pioneerof the Nile nosed Long Island-based Musket Man, a 19-1 shot, for second, and Papa Clem was fourth, a head farther back.
Dunkirk stumbled badly at the start and ran 11th. Dunkirk, Join in the Dance (seventh) and Advice (13th) extended Todd Pletcher’s Derby record to 0 for 24. Friesan Fire, the 7-2 favorite, was 18th, and General Quarters, 75-year-old Tom McCarthy’s one-horse stable, was 10th.
The 3-1 early favorite, I Want Revenge, was scratched Saturday morning because of an undiagnosed ankle injury.
Borel rode the rail, his favorite place, on the far turn and worked out a trip strangely reminiscent of his victory in the 2007 Derby.
“It was a Street Sense trip,” Borel said. “It’s unbelievable. I knew that if I could get through along the rail, it would be Katie bar the door from there.”
The man from St. Martinville, La., also won the fillies’ Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, Friday on Rachel Alexandra.
Like Woolley, Bob Baffert, Pioneerof the Nile’s trainer, paid his dues on Southwest bush tracks. “Those cowboys,” Baffert said, “came with a good horse.”