LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It came straight out of a Hollywood script: The longest of long shots runs in the most prestigious horse race in the world against bluebloods brought here by of sheikhs and Hall of Fame trainers.
Say hello to Mine That Bird, a bay gelding out of New Mexico who came into the race regarded as an extra in a 19-horse field dominated by stakes winners such as Friesan Fire, Pioneerof The Nile, and Dunkirk.
The spectacular story unfolded Saturday on a gray afternoon at Churchill Downs on a muddy track as Mine That Bird, a 50-1 shot, pulled off the second biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history with a runaway victory over Pioneerof the Nile (place) and Musket Man (show). Friesan Fire, who went off as the 7-2 favorite, was never a factor and eased up at the end, finishing 18th.
The gelding ran 1‚ miles in 2:02.66 and paid $103.20 to win — second largest payout in Derby history behind Donerail ($184.90) in 1913.
“I didn’t have any real feeling that we could win the Kentucky Derby,” said trainer Chip Woodley, who watched the race on crutches while recovering from a broken leg suffered in a motorcycle accident. He came to Kentucky from New Mexico in a pickup truck with friends. “We just wanted to compete.”
Compete his horse did, much to the shock of the racing world that was fixed on Friesan Fire and Pioneerof the Nile, the prerace favorites.
Jockey Calvin Borel, who rode Rachel Alexandra to a 20-length win in the Kentucky Oaks Friday, bided his time aboard Mine That Bird through the first part of the race. Then, after entering the homestretch, Borel saw a small opening on the rail and swooped home to one of the most compelling victories in Derby history.
“You’re in it to win it,” said Borel, who was so far ahead (6„ lengths) at the end that he turned and waved his whip at the field.
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.”
Woolley, a former quarterhorse trainer who spent time on the rodeo circuit as a bareback rider, hobbled on crutches to the winner’s circle.
The 45-year-old self-described cowboy from New Mexico broke his right leg in a motorcycle accident two months ago.
“I’m feeling like I never have before,” Woolley said. “I was just blown away.”
It was his second Derby victory in three years for Borel, having guided Secret Sense into the winner’s circle in 2007.
The day started with a sloppy track and the surprise announcement that morning line favorite I Want Revenge had been scratched when trainer Jeff Mullins felt a “hot spot” on his left front ankle.
The other news big news was that a steady rain throughout the night left the track saturated, the first soggy conditions for the Derby since Smarty Jones won in 2004 and just the fifth time in Derby history that the track was ruled ‘’muddy.”
The combination of the two events elevated Friesan Fire to the favorite’s role and increased the anticipation that the race would have an additional story line involving Friensen Fire’s trainer Larry Jones, who announced this would be his last year on the Triple Crown circuit.
After an 84-minute break between the 10th race and the Derby, Friesan Fire had been established as the solid choice, well ahead of second and third picks Dunkirk and Pioneerof The Nile.
The knock against Friesan Fire was that he had not run since winning the Louisiana Derby March 14, and that he had never run more than 1 miles. Dunkirk was solid, but he is trained by Todd Pletcher, who came into the race with an 0-21 record in the Derby.
But Pletcher, who also had Advice and Join The Dance entered in the race, maintained that Dunkirk was the best horse he had ever entered in the Derby. The buzz about Pioneerof The Nile was that he was California soft, having spent his short career running on synthetic surfaces.
All that was left was to see who would move into the record books as the 135th Derby winner. That it was Mine That Bird and not one of the favorites only added to the Derby lore.
When someone asked Woodley about not being known by most people in racing circles, he laughed.
“They’ll know me now, won’t they?” Woodley said.
And Mine That Bird.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.