John Clay: Mine That Bird connections have interesting history

LOUISVILLE — So how did the owners of Mine That Bird hook up with trainer Chip Woolley?

“I met him through Mark, and I think they’ve know each other a long time,” said Dr. Leonard Blach on Sunday morning outside of winning Barn 42.

“Twenty-five years,” said Mark Allen.

So how did Allen and Woolley meet?

Allen simply grinned.

“I don’t know if we can tell that,” said Blach.

“We were in a bar and I started a fight and he helped me out,” Allen said of Woolley.

Did you win the fight?

“We wound up on top,” said Allen, “but it took us a while.”

Was that your last bar fight?

“That night,” said Woolley.

Forgive the Derby’s 18 losing connections if they felt like doing a little drinking, and maybe a little fighting, after a $9,500 yearling purchase, who prepped in New Mexico of all places, won the 135th Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

After all, there was Todd Pletcher, maybe the world’s most successful trainer, running his Derby winless streak to 0-for-24. There was Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, with his ridiculously deep pockets, again running up the track. There was trainer Larry Jones, second in the past two Derbys, this time finishing 18th with post-time favorite Friesan Fire.

And there was Jeff Mullins, the trainer who had guided I Want Revenge to the point of being the morning-line favorite for this Derby, only to suffer the heartbreak of having to scratch his horse the morning of the race.

“It might have been different if he’d been in the race,” Allen said of I Want Revenge.

Make no mistake, they’re cowboys. Woolley wears a black cowboy hat — “It’s a part of me,” he said Sunday — and rarely takes off his shades. Allen, the son of an oil company chief executive at the center of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens’ corruption trial, arrived at the barn in his black hat, large silver Kentucky Derby belt buckle, and a Harley-Davidson T-shirt and jacket.

But for all their rough exteriors, they’re endearing cowboys. The day after, they seemed as surprised as everyone the day before.

The trio said their hope was to finish sixth or better, take some time off and run in the Belmont, the race won by Mine That Bird’s sire, Birdstone. They never really thought they’d win.

“I still can’t believe it,” Woolley said.

Mine That Bird1

When someone mentioned that even after the Derby, winning jockey Calvin Borel said that Rachel Alexandra, the filly he rode to victory by 201/4 lengths in the Kentucky Oaks, was the best horse he’d ever been on, Allen said, “No doubt about it.”

Borel said if he had to pick between the two, he’d pick Rachel.

“I wouldn’t blame him,” Allen said.

So fluke or freak? Was there something in Mine That Bird that no one saw — “I figured she’d go off 100-to-1,” Woolley said — that could have predicted the Saturday stunner? Is there something that bodes well for the next two Triple Crown legs?

The horse was the 2-year-old champion in Canada, winning four straight races. His two losses at Sunland Park were by a neck and 3¼ lengths. In both races, the horse moved too early, Woolley said. He needed a patient rider like Borel, which is exactly what he got for the Derby.

But who are we kidding? The last 50-1 shot to win the Derby, Giacomo in 2005, was third in the Preakness and didn’t hit the board in the Belmont. Mine That Bird still looks more fluke than freak.

Better watch it, those might be fighting words.

“We’re too old to fight now,” said Allen. “We’ll let the horse do our talking.”

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  1. [...] Though initial plans called for Mine That Bird to be pointed toward the Grade III Lone Star Derby on May 9, the defections of such top performers as The Pamplemousse and Old Fashioned from the Kentucky Derby trail allowed the bay gelding to work his way into the field by mid-April. John Clay: Bar Fight Turns Out Right for Kentucky Derby Owners [...]