Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mine That Bird look back

One year later, Mine That Bird brings back great memories
By Felix Chavez
El Paso Times
EL PASO — Last year at this time, Mine That Bird was an afterthought for many horse racing insiders.
The now 4-year-old gelding was discarded by many at 50-1 odds at post time of the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby.
But by the end of the race, Mine That Bird had earned instant fame. Getting a brilliant rail-hugging ride by jockey Calvin Borel on his way to one of the greatest upsets in Kentucky Derby History. Mine That Bird won at odds of 50-1 and returned $103.20 for his loyal backers. Only Donerail’s win at odds of 91-1 in 1913 was a bigger upset.
So a year later, what are the connections of Mine That Bird up to? Owners Mark Allen and Leonard Blach and trainer Chip Woolley are in Louisville, Ky., this week and will be there for the 136th running of the Run for the Roses.
“It’s been a great time so far,” Woolley said. “Being back in Louisville has given me a chance to see some great horses, meet with some friends and just take a step back and remember last year’s race. It was a wonderful race, a very nice reward for all the hard work. Mine That Bird is a good horse, he ran an incredible race. I’m also grateful I’m healthy this year. Last year I was hobbling around on a broken leg and couldn’t do as much. This year is different.”
Mine That Bird joined a select group of horses last year to win the Derby. He is a gelding and other than Funny Cide in 2003, no gelding had won the race since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.
"If someone had given me 100 opportunities to bet on that
race, I would not have picked Mine That Bird with any of those picks,” local racing fan Greg Berry said. “He wasn't on anyone's pre-race radar. But when he began to move, I never saw a horse running faster in the last quarter than he was."
After a brilliant two-year-old campaign in Canada, in which he earned the Sovereign Award as the top 2-year in that country, Blach and Allen purchased the horse for $400,000 and raced the horse twice at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.
Mine That Bird ran second and fourth in the Borderland and Sunland Derbies before embarking on his Triple Crown run. After the Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird ran second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont. He hasn’t run since finishing out of the money in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Being back at Churchill this week has brought back so many great memories and feelings,” Blach said. “Obviously, this week there is no pressure and not nearly as many media commitments. The Kentucky Derby is great race, the atmosphere here is unbelievable. To be a part of it even this year is unique. There is so much history and to think about what Mine That Bird did brings a smile to my face.”
Mine That Bird’s win in the Derby and subsequent success in the Triple Crown races was good news for the Sunland Derby. This past March, the Sunland Derby was a graded stakes event, meaning more top-notch horses ran in the race and were Kentucky Derby caliber.
Endorsement and Conveyance both ran in the Sunland Derby and qualified for the Kentucky Derby, although Endorsement suffered an ankle injury and was pulled out of the race.
“The Sunland Derby was already a good race before it got graded,” Woolley said. “To see that race get graded in part because of what Mine That Bird did was a good deal for the track and New Mexico racing.”
The win for Woolley in the Derby was by far his signature win and just how hard is it for a trainer or a jockey to get a win in the world’s most famous race?
One of the country’s top trainers, Todd Pletcher is 0-for-24. D.Wayne Lukas, who is a well-known trainer, was 0-for-12 before his first win and several top jockeys are still don’t own a win.
Mine That Bird is currently in Roswell, where Blach and Allen make their home base. But he will be back in training at Churchill Downs later this month and could run in next month’s Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.
There have been many great upsets in the Kentucky Derby and several close finishes. But there are some who are pushing for the Kentucky Derby to be downsized from 20 horses to perhaps 14. There is also some sentiment that more stock be put in how a horse does as a three-year-old and not as much as a two-year-old. Mine That Bird’s graded earnings and much of his success came as a two-year-old before the Kentucky.
Horses are entered into the race depending on their earnings in graded races.
“Things have gone pretty smoothly over the years in determining who gets in the Derby,” Woolley said. “Sure, there are a few horses that don’t get any, but it’s minimal. Most of the Kentucky Derby winners go on to do well. Mine That Bird proved he was worthy by doing well in Triple Crown.”
Added Blach: “I like how things are now. If they were to change how they determine how you get in the Derby, owners and trainers would really have to work their three-year-olds very hard to get in that race.”
Mine That Bird helped the Kentucky Derby draw 16.3 million viewers for last year’s race, the highest since 1992. He also aided Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in other ways besides helping its signature race become graded.
“Our business for the Triple Crown races were very good, better than in previous years,” said Dustin Dix, the director of racing operations at Sunland Park. “People really got into the Triple Crown and wanted to learn a great deal more about racing. It was a special day last year when Mine That Bird won. It was a great run.
Mine That Bird’s success in last year’s Derby meant different things to many different people. But the victory also reminded sports fans that upsets are part of the sports fabric, particularly in horse racing’s biggest and most-anticipated race of the year.

Felix Chavez can be reached at; (915) 546-6374

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