Rags to riches Kentucky Derby winners: Mine That Bird

Mine That Bird was a 50/1 outsider when winning the 2009 Kentucky Derby under the guidance of Calvin Borel.

There is no greater indicator of the shock value of Mine That Bird's 2009 Kentucky Derby win than the race commentary, when NBC's Tom Durkin failed to spot the mud-splattered horse's advance up the rails until the very last moments.

The story of Mine That Bird's 50/1 success is one of the Kentucky Derby's true rags to riches tales, as he was bought for just $9,500 and towed to Churchill Downs from New Mexico on a trailer attached to trainer Chip Woolley's pickup truck.

Under the current grading system for entry to the Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird would not have qualified. However, in 2009, based on his career record in graded races that included a fourth place in the New Mexico Sunland Derby, the horse scraped into contention for the Churchill Downs marquee event.

The story of the relationship between trainer Woolley and Mine That Bird's owner Mark Allen is no less extraordinary, with the pair bonding during a barroom brawl in a New Mexico tavern called Annie Get Your Guns. Legend has it that Allen had Woolley's back in the brawl and a new horse racing connection was born, one that would end in glory at Churchill Downs.

In many ways, Mine That Bird was an unlikely winner, being a gelding in a race in which complete horses dominate. This hero of a horse also had feet that turned out at something approaching a 45 degree angle, making his galloping success in muddy conditions in the Kentucky Derby even more notable.

Woolley arrived at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2009, on crutches after shattering his right leg in a motorcycle accident. Woolley and Mine That Bird had traveled a mammoth 1,200 miles by road to compete in a race that few gave them any chance of winning.

Rain had fallen in Louisville on the first Saturday in May, making the Churchill Downs track sloppy and difficult to navigate. Mine That Bird's connections would have been forgiven for giving up the ghost after the start, as the horse, ridden by unfashionable jockey Calvin Borel, trailed the leader by some 30 lengths.

However, Mine That Bird made mind-blowing progress round the final bend, switching outside then inside under a rail-riding display from Borel which caught commentator Durkin cold.

The NBC race caller mentioned Regal Ransom and Pioneer Of The Nile, the 4/1 joint-favorite for the race, in the run-in but initially missed Mine That Bird as the gelding powered into the lead. "A spectacular upset," cried Durkin incredulously as Mine That Bird swooped to a clear six-and-three-quarter-length victory, earning the 50/1-shot the clearest margin of victory in the Kentucky Derby in over 60 years. Mine That Bird had overtaken 18 horses in 21 seconds, winning a cool $1.417million in the process.

Mine that Bird, at 50/1, had also become the second biggest outsider to win the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sport behind Donerail, the 91/1 victor of the 1913 edition.

His limping trainer Woolley, wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses, had become an instant star in a sport which loves its underdogs. However, Woolley cut short his post-race interview at Churchill Downs after his beloved Mine That Bird had been draped in the coveted garland of roses. Woolley was upset about the same old questions being asked about driving the horse from New Mexico and, in any case, he had the US Triple Crown in his sights.

Here is where one of the biggest misconceptions of Mine That Bird lies - that the horse which never won again was lucky to win the Kentucky Derby. While it's true that the New Mexico rail-runner never secured another first place finish after his huge Churchill Downs victory, Mine That Bird went on to finish second in the Preakness Stakes and third in the Belmont Stakes, capping a solid season and silencing his detractors.

Trainer Woolley has not enjoyed success like the Kentucky Derby win since then either, but this was never a given as horses like Mine That Bird can be once in a lifetime mounts. Woolley still trains in New Mexico, mainly at Sunland Park, where Mine That Bird ran on his way to skipping through the slop at Churchill Downs.

Mine That Bird has happily retired to the dust of Roswell, New Mexico, the home of UFO enthusiasts, with few knowing that an equine alien is among them, one that came from nowhere to win the Kentucky Derby.

Mine That Bird has a race named after him at Sunland Park, the Mine That Bird Derby and is also the subject of a movie called 50 to 1, named after his Kentucky Derby-winning odds.

Not bad for the horse with the turned out feet that cost less than your average family car.

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