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A run for the ages
Mine That Bird pulls shocker at Kentucky Derby
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Forsyth County News
This was no Run for the Roses.

This was a Run for the Ages.

A 50-to-1 shot won the Kentucky Derby. The second biggest payoff in Derby history.

Mine That Bird, a gelding purchased for $9,500 at the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale in Lexington two years ago, beat an entire field of fancier pedigrees. By the widest margin since 1946.

The owners are two guys who had their eyes on the Derby all along. The Lone Star Derby.

The trainer is a former rodeo rider who trailered the horse 21 hours from New Mexico for his first Derby. With a broken leg.

The jockey has an eighth-grade education. But just as much horse sense as anyone who’s ever pulled on the silks.

And if that’s not enough, the horse was dead last around the first turn, trailed the entire field by six lengths with half a mile to go, and then had to run through the entire field of 18 horses. On the rail.

Forget Seabiscuit. That story pales next to this one. The only problem with turning it into a movie is that the viewing audience will need to suspend its disbelief.

Forget global warming. Somebody check to see if hell has frozen over.

Owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach spent the spring pointing Mine That Bird toward this Saturday’s Lone Star Derby, a $400,000 Grade III stakes race. “We really thought he was a good Grade III horse who could maybe run some Grade II stakes,” Blach told Rick Bozich of the Louisville Courier-Journal. “A lot of people thought he’d be in over his head in a Grade I race. Including us!”

Enter Ben Huffman, the racing secretary at Churchill Downs. Huffman kept calling the owners to remind them that Mine That Bird had racked up enough earnings — mostly in Canada — to qualify for the Derby. Huffman’s always on the lookout for horses to “fill out the field.”

Then Allen realized that Blach is 74, and this might be his only shot at the Derby. A long shot beats no shot. “Dream a little bit,” Blach told Tom Pedulla of the USA Today, “and your dreams will come true.”

Trainer Chip Woolley agreed. “The Kentucky Derby seemed out of reach,” he told Bozich. “I’m just a small guy. I don’t know why this happened.”

Here’s part of the reason: Woolley met Allen 25 years ago, when they wound up on the same side of a barroom brawl. There followed years on the rodeo circuit, training horses in New Mexico, the motorcycle accident, the broken leg and the long trip to Louisville.

“When we unloaded my horse,” Woolley told Jennie Rees of the Courier-Journal, “it was night time, and you come around the corner, and you look up and see the spires ... it gives you chills down your back.

“It’s actually bigger, way better than you’d have dreamed when you were home looking in. You don’t realize how truly special the Derby is until you’re here.”

The rookie trainer came in with a plan. In his last two starts, the Borderland Derby and the Sunland Derby, Mine That Bird made his move too soon, and faded in the stretch.

Woolley made sure that didn’t happen at Chruchill Downs. Enter jockey Calvin Borel. When Borel won the ‘07 Derby aboard Street Sense, he stayed at the back of the field.

With half a mile to go, Street Sense was in 17th place. Then Borel asked him to go. “I was on a bomb!” he exclaimed at the time. “After that, it was just a matter of how far he’d win, because I knew when I asked him, he’d have plenty left.”

“That’s why I wanted Calvin,” Woolley told Bob Forbes of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He’s patient, saves ground, loves that fence. We were tickled to death to get him.”

Early on, Borel seemed to be taking the strategy to an extreme. “We planned to be eight to 10 lengths back,” Woolley told Rees. Borel was twice that distance behind, causing Woolley to consider the fine showing he was making in his first Derby.

But Borel sat right there until a half mile remained. “I was very surprised how he turned off for me the first part,” Borel told Forbes. “What I’m saying, he wasn’t tight.”
Then, Borel asked Mine That Bird to make his move, and, boom! His horse sped along the rail, locking into a gear the rest of the field could only imagine. “It’s not the first mile that decides it,” Borel told Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger. “It’s the last one.”
“I got a hole, so I took a shot. There was more room than you could see. He’s a small horse.”
How incredible was Borel’s ride? Take it from an expert. Bob Baffert has trained three Derby winners. His horse Pioneer of the Nile finished second on Saturday.
According to Borzich, Baffert was one of the first visitors to Mine That Bird’s barn after the race. The first thing he did was wrap Borel in a hug.
“Nobody could have won that race but you,” Baffert told Borel. “You belong in the Hall of Fame for what you did.”
A Run for the Ages indeed.