John Clay: You just don’t take that horse and win

By John Clay, Lexington Herald-Leader sports columnist

Come on now, this just doesn’t happen.

You don’t take a yearling purchased for a paltry $9,500 and win the sport’s most famous race. You don’t take a colt that had not won a race since October, that finished dead last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and triumph on the first Saturday in May.

You don’t take a horse that ran out of the money in the ungraded Sunland Derby in New Mexico last time out and win the Kentucky Derby. You don’t win the way Mine That Bird, who came to the track in a 21-hour trailer ride, won the 135th Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

You just don’t do it at 50-1.

In fact, when Mine that Bird arrived on the grounds, most of the so-called experts wondered why he’d bothered to make the trip.

But in the end, Mine That Bird got the trip, a record-setting trip.

It all looked so simple when Calvin “Bo-Rail” Borel guided his 3-year-old through that sliver of daylight by the fence, like the horse had been buttered on each side, and squirted right through for a 6¾-length win, the largest margin since 1946.

You just don’t do that.

“I was shocked he won,” admitted Bob Baffert, the three-time Derby winner who thought he had his fourth when the 19-horse field turned for home and his Pioneerof the Nile was on the lead. But then came Borel, and there was Baffert, shaking his head, saying, “But the thing is, that’s the Kentucky Derby, and everybody has a chance.”

Even a horse that had run in only two graded stakes his entire career. Even a trainer, Bennie “Chip” Woolley, Jr., who before Saturday had won one race this year, a 2-year-old maiden with a first-time starter.

“I got to be honest with you, I was very surprised he won,” said trainer Todd Pletcher after the best of his three entries finished seventh. “But Calvin rode a beautiful race, the horse ran a great race, and hats off to him. He was much the best today.”

But come on.

All week, there had been no talk about Mine That Bird. No buzz. Nothing.

“But there wouldn’t be,” said Carl Nafzger, the Churchill veteran who trained a pair of Derby winners, including Street Sense two years ago. “He’s from New Mexico, you know.”

In fact, there was more attention paid to the fact Woolley had been navigating the backstretch on crutches all week thanks to a motorcycle accident two months back.

“I got beat by a quarter-horse trainer from the Southwest with a broken foot,” joked Baffert, a former quarter-horse trainer who won his first $100,000 race at Sunland. He also trained the only other horse to race in New Mexico and win the Derby. And Real Quiet lost in that state, too.

Here’s another irony: Baffert had beaten Mine That Bird with another of his 3-year-olds. His Mythical Power ran second to Mine That Bird’s fourth in the Sunland Derby.

In fact, Mine That Bird had been so forgettable that when Baffert’s wife, Jill, asked him who Borel was riding, he answered, “Don’t worry, he’s riding a super long shot. You don’t have to worry about him.”

But the long shot may be a good thing in the long run.

“I tell you,” said Nafzger, “(this) might have done the Derby more good than anything, because it gets everybody back in the Derby again. You remember what Canonero II did for us.”
Canonero II was a $1,200 purchase at the Keeneland Yearling Sale. He was shipped to Venezuela, didn’t do much there, then was returned to the United States, coming out of nowhere to win the 97th Kentucky Derby in 1971. Then he won the Preakness.

“And this horse is a well-bred horse,” said Nafzger of the fact that Mine That Bird’s sire, Birdstone, won the Belmont, and the dam Mining My Own’s sire, Smart Strike, was named North America’s leading sire in both 2007 and 2008. “So there you are.”

So, yes, there you are.

It doesn’t happen.

But it did.

Related multimedia:


8 Responses to “John Clay: You just don’t take that horse and win”
  1. ralph gilster jr says:

    John: Congrats on an OUTSTANDING & most informative article! Best, RRG

  2. irabird says:

    Well done, John! A good day for racing!

  3. richard says:

    The only reason that horse won is becasue there were a lot of horses out of the race with injuries, if I WANT REVENGE RUNS HE PROBABLY WINS.

    • Brian Smith says:

      Maybe. Maybe not. Mine that Bird came from practically last place to finish 6 3/4 lengths ahead and win the derby. There were other high-seeded horses in that race. That’s why the derby is so special. You never know what will happen!

  4. Brian Smith says:

    Absolutely amazing! A $9,500.00 horse that nobody gave a second thought to and was supposed to be just a “field horse” in the derby wins it all! The jockey rode him perfectly. That horse raced like he was there to prove everybody wrong. Another thing everybody loved was how excited the jockey (Calvin Borel) was. He said a few times that he just wished his parents could have been there to see it. He was so choked up with emotion. You would have thought that he had just one his first race period! This is a storyline that movies are made of.

    Hats off to trainer, rider, and horse! They made quite a combination!

  5. Todd says:

    Man this was exactly what our industry needed. Timing was as perfect as calvin’s ride. Hope is the reason we raise these babies. LOVED IT even though I was heavy on Pioneer….Only money

  6. Tom Perry says:

    I was for my pal Tom McCarthy and “the General”–but since they did not win-I am happy for Calvin. Just wish I had dropped a two dollar bet on him. Good luck-Calvin. Hope to see you at Ellis Park later this year. Tom

  7. jj webb says:

    joh clay you are in the wrong business. that was a real horse,realjockey,reakowner,real trainer for get that handicapping you dont know bullll!!!!!!!!—-.