Trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. hitched Mine That Bird to the back of his pickup and drove to the Kentucky Derby from New Mexico. With an inspired ride on the rail from Calvin Borel, it all added up to one of the greatest upsets in 135 years of America’s most famous horse race.
“Those cowboys,” trainer Bob Baffert said, “they came with a good horse.”
Mine That Bird went off at 50-1 odds Saturday, but that was only one measure of how little attention he garnered before pulling away in the stretch to score a 6 3/4 -length victory at Churchill Downs, the second-biggest stunner in Derby history. The margin was the largest since Assault won by eight lengths in 1946.
“All I asked him was to lay the horse back and be patient, and he did that magically,” Woolley said.
That should have been no surprise since Borel used the same rail-hugging ride to win the Derby two years ago with Street Sense.
“I learned by Street Sense being so patient with these 3-year-olds,” Borel said. “They can only go so fast, so far. When I hollered at him, he just went on.”
Borel couldn't get a decent ride at Churchill Downs even after that magical 2007 win. Bet that never happens again.
Mine That Bird ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 2:02.66 and paid $103.20, $54 and $25.80. It was the second-largest payout in Derby history behind Donerail ($184.90) in 1913.
The 45-year-old Woolley, a former quarterhorse trainer who spent time on the rodeo circuit as a bareback rider, hobbled on crutches to the winner’s circle. He broke his right leg in a motorcycle accident two months ago.
“I’m feeling like I never have before,” he said. “I was just blown away.”
And the horse couldn't win regularly at Sunland Park (near El Paso), but did earn enough graded stakes money to qualify for the Run for the Roses. Though the owners didn't know that until the Derby called and asked them if they were coming.
Mine That Bird got squeezed coming out of the starting gate, but Borel took a firm hold and wrestled the horse to the rail while they were in last place.
They were 12th and going strong with a quarter mile to go, after working their way around Atomic Rain. Borel quickly angled Mine That Bird back to the inside with three-sixteenths to go and shot the gelding through a tight spot approaching the eighth pole.
“I had enough room,” Borel said. “He’s a small horse.”
Once free, Mine That Bird quickly accelerated toward an improbable victory.
“I salute Calvin for his terrific ride,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, whose Derby losing streak extended to 0-of-24. “It’s an amazing story. It just shows you how special this race is. Anything can happen.”
Borel’s mind was on his parents during the race and he paid them tribute by crossing the finish line with his whip pointing to the overcast sky.
“If they could only be here to see what I accomplish in my life,” he said, his voice choking.