LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The New Mexican cowboys in the black hats were the good guys in the 135th Kentucky Derby. Whether trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley and co-owner Mark Allen will bring long-shot winner Mine That Bird to the Preakness Stakes is up in the air.
Woolley said he became friends with Allen 25 years ago after siding with his future boss in a bar fight. Friendships forged in the heat of battle can last a lot longer than romantic love. They partied all Saturday night and didn’t get any sleep, but they didn’t let euphoria force them into a snap decision.
“We’ll decide in a day or two,” Woolley said Sunday afternoon. “We’ll probably head east; we’re just not sure where. The Preakness was not on our radar leading up to the Derby, but we’re absolutely going to look at it. We’re still trying to grasp what happened. First time in the Derby, and to win it at 50-1 is a humbling experience.”
Woolley was 1 for 32 in 2009 entering the Derby, which was Allen’s first stakes win with a thoroughbred. He won a quarter horse futurity at New Mexico’s Sunland Park, where Mine That Bird was 0 for 2 before he and Calvin Borel pulled off their shocker in the slop Saturday.
Although Mine That Bird’s 6 3/4 -length margin was the largest since 1946, Allen wasn’t sure he’d run the little gelding May 16 at Pimlico. “We’re going to let the horse tell us,” Allen said. “If he’s doing good, we’ll run.”
The last healthy Derby winner to skip the Preakness was Spend a Buck in 1985. Grindstone, Mine That Bird’s grandsire, was injured in the 1996 Derby and was retired a few days later.
Of the 19 Derby runners, only fourth-place Papa Clem is definite for the Preakness. Pimlico executive Mike Gathagan said runner-up Pioneer of the Nile, third-place Musket Man, Join in the Dance, General Quarters and Friesan Fire, the favorite who ran 18th, are possibilities. The new shooters coming are Take the Points, Mr. Fantasy, Big Drama and Miner’s Escape.
Derek Ryan trains Musket Man for Jericho resident Eric Fein and Vic Carlson of Portland. “We will give it a few days,” Ryan said. “I am sure the owners are looking at it.”
Allen, wearing blue jeans and a black Harley-Davidson leather jacket, and Woolley, on crutches after breaking his right leg in a motorcycle accident, are men of the people. They posed with an estimated 300 fans and signed hats, T-shirts, programs and winning tickets – yes, there were a few – from noon until 1:45 p.m. Sunday at the Barbaro memorial near Churchill Downs’ front gate.
The meet-and-greet came after Woolley told Churchill senior director of communications Darren Rogers on Sunday morning that he wanted to lay the Derby winner’s traditional garland of roses on the bronze statue. Fans lined up to receive a flower until all were gone. Usually, owners freeze-dry the roses and keep them forever.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride and a wild time,” Woolley said. “The people of Kentucky were very good to us, and we wanted to give something back to the game.”