Bird Watching on the Big Screen

A full-length motion picture originally titled “Wild Ride,” now called "50-1," about the improbable story of Mine That Bird is scheduled to be released in 2013. The story has so much potential to make a compelling movie, much like the anticipated film about Canonero II, due to be released at a later date. Following is one person’s behind-the-scenes look at the Mine That Bird story. Be forewarned, it is very long, but the story can be told no other way.

On April 17, 2009, I received a phone call from Darren Rogers, head of communications for Churchill Downs.

“We’ve got two new Derby horses,” Darren said. From past experience, the only kinds of horses entering the Derby picture at this late date were those whose only impact on the race would be to keep someone more worthy out.

“Oh, great,” I said. “I can’t wait to hear this.”

With the top Kentucky Derby contenders well established and the only question being who gets in and who gets left out, Darren’s call was not exactly received with unbridled enthusiasm. The last thing we needed at this time was to have unaccomplished 3-year-olds looking to sneak in the back door.

Darren then revealed the two newcomers: “Mine That Bird, trained by Bennie Woolley, and Summer Bird, trained by Tim Ice.”

“Who the heck are Bennie Woolley and Tim Ice?” I asked, not really wanting to know. They had to be greenhorns from the sticks looking to snatch a moment of glory.

Bennie Woolley, who was stabled at Sunland Park, had Mine That Bird, a gelding who actually was a champion in Canada the year before, but had run horribly in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita and done little in his two starts at Sunland in 2009.

Tim Ice, who was based at Louisiana Downs, had Summer Bird, who, like Mine That Bird, was a son of Belmont and Travers winner Birdstone, and actually had shown promise by finishing third in the Arkansas Derby. But it was only his third career start and he had only broken his maiden on March 1.

Let’s just say it was a stretch running either colt in the Kentucky Derby. After all, Derby horses do not come from Sunland Park and Louisiana Downs. In any event, I took down their phone numbers, called both trainers for quotes, and put a story online, titled “The Birds Are Coming to Kentucky.”

Said Woolley, better known as Chip, “We finally came to the decision (Thursday). We just weighed our options and felt this was our one shot at the Derby and decided to run. In the Sunland Derby, he made move too early and came up a little empty. He’s healthy and doing real good, so we’ll take a shot.”
Said Ice, a former assistant to Cole Norman, “After a few of those horses came out and we started moving up in earnings from 24th to 21st, we started talking about it. The way he came out of the Arkansas Derby, it gave us a little bit of hope. We definitely think we have a real nice horse, but the seasoning part he’ll have to make up for with his talent. I believe the colt has the ability to run with some of them, and hopefully, we can get lucky and hit the board.”

Mine That Bird had $138,705 in graded earnings and ranked No. 18 on the earnings list, while Summer Bird, with $100,000, was No. 21.

That was supposed to be the last time I would ever write about either horse.

Mine That Bird’s owners, Mark Allen, who owned Double Eagle Ranch in Roswell, N.M., and Leonard Blach, a veterinarian from Roswell who owned Buena Suerte Equine, actually had decided not run Mine That Bird in the Derby, feeling it was too ambitious a task. In addition, their horse was unlikely to even make it into the field, as there were several prospective starters ahead of him on the graded earnings list. They had been contacted by the Churchill Downs racing office about possibly running, but declined. They then received another call from Churchill, telling them that several horses had dropped out and there was a good chance Mine That Bird would make the starting field.

“Why not,” they said. This would be their only chance to live an owner’s greatest dream. That set in motion one of the great odysseys of the Turf.

A few days after the decision to go to the Derby, Woolley, a native of Raton, N.M. and former rodeo bareback rider, and groom and exercise rider Charlie Figueroa set off on a 1,450-mile van ride that many believed to be a fool’s journey. Less than four weeks later, they would be given a police escort to Pimlico Race Course for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Before Woolley could embark on the journey, he needed a groom and exercise rider to accompany him and on whom he could rely. Mine That Bird’s regular groom had to return to Mexico to be with his mother, who had been involved in a bad auto accident.

Enter Figueroa, who was breaking the babies and doing a little bit of everything at co-owner Mark Allen’s ranch. Figueroa also was a top-rate exercise rider and excellent judge of horses, and Allen knew he would be able tell Woolley how the horse was doing on the track. It was decided that he would be the perfect replacement to take care of grooming and exercising Mine That Bird, whom Allen and Blach had purchased shortly before the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup for $400,000, a far cry from the $9,500 the horse sold for as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton October sale.

To complicate matters, Woolley had been on crutches since early March when he was thrown from his Big Dog chopper, suffering 12 fractures from his knee down to his ankle, including a broken tibia and fibula, the latter requiring a dozen screws to be inserted. This wasn’t exactly the ideal scenario to have to drive over a thousand miles, especially with Woolley not being able to use his right foot, but he still was determined to do all the driving.

This wasn’t surprising for Woolley, who likes to be hands on in whatever he does. He normally galloped his own horses, and it was very difficult for him not to be on the horse and feel him every day. When it came to Mine That Bird, he didn’t trust anyone, and according to his girlfriend at the time, Kim Carr, had to observe every oat the horse ate.

So began the 40-hour journey to Kentucky, as Woolley and Figueroa followed the scent of roses. This was the first time Figueroa had even laid eyes on Mine That Bird. They converted the four stalls in Woolley’s Turnbow trailer into two in order to make Mine That Bird more comfortable, then set the GPS system in Woolley’s pickup truck for Louisville, Ky.
They left Sunland Park on Monday, Apr. 20 at 6:30 a.m., arriving at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas at about 10 o’clock that night. The following morning, Mine That Bird was checked out by a veterinarian, after which Figueroa took the horse out for a jog. They then loaded him back on the trailer and continued on their journey, pulling into the Churchill Downs stable gate at 10:30 Tuesday night following 21 hours of driving, plus the overnight stay at Lone Star.
During the trip, Figueroa was briefed by Woolley on the horse’s habits and how he wanted things done. The two got along great and formed a strong bond along the way.
Shortly after the trio arrived at Churchill Downs, former trainer Murray Johnson showed up at the barn looking to sell Woolley one of his Niagara Equissage machines. Woolley told Johnson he was just looking for Mine That Bird to run well enough to go on to the Belmont Stakes and had him use it on the horse every day.
“He thrived, and his muscles were in excellent shape,” said Johnson, who trained five-time Breeders’ Cup Classic starter Perfect Drift.

Each morning, Figueroa watched the Derby horses gallop a mile and three-eighths or a mile and a half and they were coming back blowing. He and Mine That Bird were going two miles every day at a pretty good lick on every kind of surface and not once did the horse come back blowing.

They decided to have Calvin Borel, who had won the Derby two years earlier on Street Sense, work Mine That Bird on April 27. The gelding went five furlongs in 1:02, closing his final eighth in :12 1/5 and galloping out six furlongs in a strong 1:15 1/5.

“Things went super,” Woolley said afterward. “I’m really happy with my horse. It’s pretty much exactly what I wanted – he started slower and finished up super-strong. He came back to the barn really playing. That’s as good as you are ever going to see him feeling. He’s not an animated horse.”

When Figueroa saw him come back to the barn after the work and nearly unseat Borel in the shedrow, he knew he was ready.

I had started coming to the Derby about seven or eight days out from the race and not only did not see Mine That Bird’s work, I honestly didn’t give the horse much thought. I remember walking past Barn 42, where the horse was stabled, and seeing this tall guy, dressed in black and wearing a cowboy hat, standing outside the barn on crutches. I eventually found out he was the trainer of Mine That Bird, but I would keep walking, figuring I would talk to him “tomorrow.” Well, I’m ashamed to say tomorrow never came. There were too many trainers with legitimate shots to talk to, and I have to admit I just didn’t pay much attention to this horse.

On April 30, however, while watching the horses train from the grandstand, I got my first glimpse of Mine That Bird galloping. Not a single person had even mentioned the horse, and although I felt he had little or no shot, I did end my column with this graph:

“Although no one was paying attention, Mine That Bird, who likely will be either the longest or second-longest priced horse in the field, actually turned in a smooth, strong gallop this morning, which caught the eye. There is nothing striking about him physically; he’s just a smallish colt in a plain brown wrapper, but he really moves well over this track.”

One morning, Jean Amick and Juliet Hogue from Second Stride (which re-trains retired horses and find them homes) showed up at Barn 42 looking for Derby horses. As they peered down the shedrow, Woolley, standing off by himself, said to them, “If you’re looking for a Derby horse, here’s one.” He then proudly showed off Mine That Bird to them and the two women had found their Derby rooting interest.
Woolley’s misadventures were far from over. At the media/VIP party two days before the Derby, he tripped and fell, and X-rays taken by the vet the following morning revealed he had re-fractured one of his bones.

Even Mark Allen was having his mishaps. He was delayed getting to Louisville when his pickup truck broke down in Sweetwater, Texas.

Derby Day brought morning rains, which ended by about 9 o’clock. Woolley was unable to make the entire walk from the barn area to the paddock, but he wasn’t about to miss the experience of a lifetime. He went to the track through the paddock and walked some 300 yards toward the clubhouse turn, where he waited for his horse. He then walked the rest of the way with the horse, soaking up all the electricity.
“I was pretty worn out and shaky-legged, but I wanted to be part of the Derby walk,” he said later. “That’s one of the biggest things about coming to the Derby. When you look up and see all those people, that really meant something to me and I wasn’t going to miss all of it.”
Figueroa couldn’t believe it when he heard people shouting Mine That Bird’s name. “Maybe it was because of Calvin or maybe it was just for the horse, but they were going crazy,” he said.

Well, as history will recount, although Mine That Bird’s travels weren’t exactly Darwin’s Journey of Discovery, it proved to be one of the great odysseys in the annals of the Triple Crown, as the plain-looking little gelding shocked the world by coming from last in the 19-horse field, more than 20 lengths off the pace, to win by an amazing 6 3/4 lengths, paying $103.20, the second-highest payoff in Derby history. His breathtaking acceleration on the far turn, as if someone had given him a hotfoot, was one of the most stunning moments in Derby history. He passed horses as if moving in a different time frame.

Just like that he was five in front, then six, then nearly seven at the wire, coming home his final half in an astounding :47 1/5 and final quarter in a Secretariat-like :23 1/5 to complete the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02 3/5.

As I made my way across the track toward the winner’s circle, feeling as if my week in Louisville had been a waste of time, I ran into Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden, who also makes it a practice to talk to all the Derby trainers at least once and get some background material. We both looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, “I got nuthin.’” We pretty much had to start from scratch. Even after covering the Derby for so many years, it was a lesson well learned.
It was inexcusable to have totally ignored the horse. Despite his feeble price tag as a yearling, he was the Sovereign Award winner as champion 2-year-old in Canada, winning the Grey Stakes, Swynford Stakes, and Silver Deputy Stakes after breaking his maiden in a $62,500 claiming race in his second career start for Dominion Bloodstock, Derek Ball, and HGHR, Inc.
After the race, Figueroa could sense the shock in the crowd while he was waiting for the horse to return. “I went on the track and looked back at the crowd and they were stunned,” he said. “It was like, ‘What just happened?’”
Meanwhile, up in Canada, Mine That Bird’s former trainer and majority owner Dave Cotey watched the race in the Finish Line bar at Woodbine with his two partners in the horse, Hugh Galbraith and Derek Ball, each of whom had owned 25% of the horse.
“We’re just so ecstatic,” Cotey said. “I can hardly talk I was screaming so hard for him. Everybody in the bar was screaming their heads off. I’m so proud of the horse and so happy for Chip and the owners. I loved this horse when I bought him. He just glided over the ground and he was so smart. He just did everything right. The deal went down as smooth as can be and everyone was happy. We made $324,000 with him, and with the sale, that’s close to $800,000. I hope they make another three or four million with him. We did great and they did great. I can’t wait until he runs again.”
Since arriving in Louisville, Woolley had been hoping to meet Carl Nafzger, who was a legend on the rodeo circuit and for whom he had great admiration. He never did get to meet him before the race, but ran into him in the Kentucky Derby museum after the race.
“Congratulations,” Nafzger said. “Both bull riders."
“I’m just a bareback rider, not a bull rider,” Woolley replied.
“Well, congratulations again, it’s great to meet you, said Nafzger, who showed Woolley his Kentucky Derby ring that is given to the winning connections. “There, that’s yours now.”
“From what I hear I get one of them,” Woolley said. “I’ll be proud to wear it.”
Later that night, Mine That Bird was getting antsy for his dinner. He was showing no signs that the race took anything out of him, as he ripped into his hay rack and attempted to nail anyone who came close to his stall without a feed tub. Woolley and Figueroa finally returned from the Derby museum party at around 10:15. Figueroa brought the feed tub over and Mine That Bird promptly buried his head in it.
So ended one of the wildest Kentucky Derbys in memory, and a result that made Giacomo’s victory in 2005 seem predictable, despite both going off at almost the same odds.

With a Kentucky Derby victory comes extreme scrutiny, and several controversies surfaced prior to the Preakness, including a report in the Anchorage Daily News that Mark Allen had been involved in a political bribery scandal that involved his father.
On the racing side, Woolley was told by Calvin Borel that he had decided to ride the runaway Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness instead of Mine That Bird. Woolley had the unusual task of having to find a replacement jockey to ride his Kentucky Derby winner. He chose Mike Smith, who had won the Derby aboard Giacomo in 2005.

Then soon after, according to Ahmed Zayat, owner of Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, he had been contacted by Mark Allen informing him he would be entering another horse in the Preakness in order to keep Rachel Alexandra (who did not have sufficient graded earnings) out of the race, and asked Zayat to join him, which he initially agreed to do.

But Zayat had a change of heart and announced on TVG that he had decided to reconsider and would not enter any other horses.

“I have decided I don’t want to be viewed as not being a sportsman, so I am happy not to block her for the good of the game,” he said.

But most important was the continuing journey of Mine That Bird, who vanned from Louisville to Baltimore for the Preakness, with Woolley and Figueroa stopping only for gas and to grab a bite to eat at Arby’s.

Figueroa couldn’t believe it when he saw the heavy traffic on Interstates 70 and 695 clearing out of their lane to the sound of blaring police sirens and whirring helicopters. People were taking pictures from the overpass. Others stood in their front yards near Pimlico shouting words of encouragement. Figueroa, who had never been east of Oklahoma, turned to Woolley, who had driven close to 2,000 miles with a broken right leg, and said, “It’s amazing what two minutes (the approximate time of the Derby) can do.”
“Every day, we say to each other, ‘Is this really happening?’ Figueroa said. “I tell the horse, ‘You started all this; it’s all your fault.’”
When they arrived in Baltimore, Woolley said to Figueroa, “Well, we can’t go any farther, we’re at the Ocean.”
But, despite all the hoopla, Woolley has been on a simple mission. “This has been a dream year,” he said. “But I didn’t come here to be a celebrity. I just came here to run a horse.”
When Mine That Arrived at Pimlico, he was allowed to stand outside the barn surrounded by a throng of photographers and cameramen. The horse barely moved, unfazed by the crowd, and posed for pictures for at least 20 minutes. No one had ever seen anything like it.

Despite losing Borel, Woolley had him work Mine That Bird at Churchill Downs before departing for Maryland, and it turned into an emotional experience.
“When he got off the horse and gave me a hug I could tell something was up,” Figueroa said. “Then when he hugged Chip he just lowered his head and broke down crying. It was pretty hard on him. I knew it would be hard for him to take off a horse that had just won the Kentucky Derby. He kept telling us, ‘Thank you,’ but I said, ‘Geez, dude, we should be thanking you.’ Then he headed to the airport to go to California to be on Jay Leno.”
When the word got around that Rachel Alexandra was running in the Preakness, it wasn’t well received by rival trainers, including Woolley.
“Any man would be a fool to welcome that filly,” he said.

Of course, Rachel went on to win the Preakness, beating a fast-closing Mine That Bird by a length, and eventually was named Horse of the Year.

For the Belmont Stakes, Borel returned aboard Mine That Bird, but spent all of Belmont week in Manhattan and didn’t get a chance to get used to the sweeping mile and a half oval. In addition to being on Jay Leno, he also appeared on the David Letterman Show, the Today Show, and Good Morning America.
Woolley woke up the morning of June 2 to find out his truck had been burglarized and Mine That Bird’s registration papers missing. Woolley’s truck had been broken into at the Louisville hotel where he was staying and his GPS also was stolen. He contacted Churchill Downs and The Jockey Club and got the papers replaced. Later that day he arrived in New York.

The theme of the Belmont could have been, “The Ponderosa Comes to New York.” There were so many cowboy hats (mostly black) at Belmont Park all that was missing was a herd of cattle. After all, when was the last time a Belmont favorite’s trainer and owner (Allen) met in a bar fight? By the time Chip Woolley arrived in New York his crutches had become as familiar an inanimate object as Archie Bunker’s chair and Columbo’s raincoat.

The story had read like a novel, becoming the most compelling human/animal travelogue since John Steinbeck’s cross-country journey with his French poodle in “Travels With Charley.” Like Charley and Steinbeck, Mine That Bird and Woolley’s relationship became, as the author wrote, “A bond between strangers.”

On the morning of the Belmont, Figueroa, said he was sorry to see the magical journey nearing an end. People would ask him ‘I bet you’re ready to go home,’ and he would reply, “I’ve read about these races and these places all my life. Why would I want to wake up from my dream?”

Later that morning, Woolley stood next to Mine That Bird’s stall holding out his hand for several minutes while the gelding continuously licked his palm.

Mine That Bird ran another strong race in the Belmont, but lost way too much ground around the turn and could only finish third behind, guess who? Summer Bird. The two late-flying birds from back in April had captured two legs of the Triple Crown.

Summer Bird’s story and his adventures are for another time, as is the remainder of Mine That Bird’s career, which saw him taken away from Woolley and turned over to Wayne Lukas.

Mine That Bird’s journey was one that is not likely to be forgotten, and as you can see, the producers of “Wild Ride” have a lot to work with. In the case of Mine That Bird, art does not need to imitate life. The story already is written as if conceived by a Hollywood script writer. Let it be passed down just the way it happened. After all, no one is going to believe it anyway.


Leave a Comment:

an ole railbird

chip woolley& mine that bird were a refreshing reality, that warmed the hearts of "many of old cold& callous hearted racetracker.

 i will always believe that mine that bird ,had more races left in him ,when he was retired.

 the horse should have never left woolleys barn. & that all there is to it.

when you are involved with race horses,& old long spells between wins.

 you think about woolley & that bird. then it gets easier to get up at 5 am to go pour out feed for a bunch of "wanta be races horses".

  i remain "an ole railbird".

19 Sep 2012 8:34 PM

Awesome, Steve! Can't wait to see the movie.

19 Sep 2012 8:52 PM
Paula Higgins

LOVED this story Steve. MTB was a really good horse who was under everyone's radar. I am not sure why because he had run well before the Derby in other races. Chip Woolley's story was equally as compelling. He is a character and alot of people were very happy to see a small time trainer, on no one's radar, win.

19 Sep 2012 8:58 PM


19 Sep 2012 9:02 PM

I don't think there is anyone in the world who can tell this story, or any other thoroughbred horse story, better than Steve can. Hopefully they are consulting Steve on the movie script.  The story of Mine That Bird in itself gets more amazing every time I read it.  

Sometimes things are just meant to be I guess, sometimes a series of the most unlikely events weave and intertwine together in such a way that works into a positive result.

I'll never forget the Derby in my house that year.  The neighbors came, one in her 70's crazy about Calvin, another 86 and still driving to Saratoga and maintaining a summer house nearby.  She loved Mine That Bird and called him "Mind The Bird, Mind The Bird."  It was a happy day in my house that day when Calvin came flying home on that bird.

Of the two bird brothers, I liked Summer Bird.  Steve you did notice Mine That Bird, I distinctly remember that paragraph about him moving nicely over the track.  I thought at the time, that little one is kind of cute, but did not pick him.  I cannot wait to see this movie, who is playimg Woolley?

19 Sep 2012 9:26 PM

Thanks, Steve.  I'd love to see someone analyze the rides on Mine That Bird after the Belmont.  

19 Sep 2012 9:33 PM

Simply wonderful....Nobody since Joe Palmer tells a story like you

19 Sep 2012 9:35 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Could be the greatest tailor made story for Hollywood of all time in any sport but if anyone can screw it up, it's Hollywood. Just an amazing story. Best ever? Seemed impossible on paper. You had to have a hunch or be a connection. One of those horses I will always love, the Great Mine That Bird. I'm actually scared to death of the movie, but maybe they won't screw it up. Sure glad I saw the event. MTB sure looked fantastic pre-race on the walk over to the paddock. So did Chip on his crutches. I'm still mad at Calvin for choosing Rachel in that situation for The Preakness but I still like Calvin and his ride on MTB was one of the greatest ever. So unbelievable that the race caller on TV missed it. All of a sudden he was six lengths ahead and "it's a plane, it's superhorse, no it's a Birdstone. Oh what's his name, Mine That Bird !!!!" Should be a mini-series on TV, two weeks long. There is so much there. How the hell are you going to be nearly crippled from a motorcycle accident, drive your horse, what was it twenty hours straight to Louisville and win The Derby with a horse that at least on paper has no shot? The people that don't know the story and watch the movie might say, "that's Hollywood for you, what a bunch of BS. At least make it somewhat believable. Give me a break."

19 Sep 2012 10:12 PM
Greg J.

Thank you Mr. Haskin, Mine That Bird sure made alot of dreams come true!

19 Sep 2012 10:32 PM

When will you Yankees learn?

Never overlook Canadian champion two-year-olds in the Derby.

Especially the little ones.

19 Sep 2012 11:55 PM

Ole Railbird,

I'm with you, Mine That Bird should never have left Woolley's barn indeed.

19 Sep 2012 11:55 PM

I was really amazed and dismayed when MTB was taken away from Chip Wooley. Somehow, in fact, I wound up telling him just that online and he graciously thanked me for my concern. I think he's gone back to being just another small-time trainer, but nobody can ever take away the glory of that first Saturday in May when a freakishly fast little brown gelding left 'em all in the dust. Can't wait for the movie!

20 Sep 2012 12:24 AM

Enjoyed your story on Mine That Bird. I always loved that plain, little horse. He seemed maligned by most, always the outsider, not in the know. It was difficult to see him handed over to Lukas. I'm sure it was tuff on Woolley; he did nothing wrong by the horse. With Lukas it appeared to be one misstep after another, poor decisions made for sure. I saw Mine That Bird before his race at Saratoga. He looked marvelous, well cared for. Now he's spending retirement stuck in limbo in New Mexico. This is no way to treat a Derby winner no matter what you thought of him. Perhaps Dullahan, his half brother, will make up for Mine That Bird's shortcomings. He looks on track to do so.

20 Sep 2012 12:34 AM

I have nothing against Mine That Bird.  I love a longshot winner.  But as a resident of Alaska, I will not see this movie.  The whole VECO/Bill Allen/Senator Ted Stevens bribery scandal left a bad taste in this reader's mouth.

Steve, as usual, very nice write-up on Mine That Bird.

PS  I cannot wait until the Canonero movie is released.

20 Sep 2012 2:05 AM

Some horses run for a living,  others live to run. I don't believe Mine that Bird was the latter, but I don't think he was a one trick pony either. His Derby spectacular was not a fluke. The Bird could take it or leave it, and decided at some point to just leave it. Most of us didn't want it to end that way. It was such a charming fairy tale, and the pint sized pony in the plain brown wrapper was so easy to love. I was profoundly disappointed that Mine that Bird wasn't able to redeem himself, I knew he had it in him. However, after all was said and done, Bird fared pretty well. The little gelding was spared injury, he won't be shuttled from country to country for stud duty, he won't be sold to Japan, and his story will live on in children's books and a movie. He left his mark on the sport, and he will always be remembered. Hopefully, Mine that Bird will live a long happy life in the hard country, Assault did. Sweet Bird, if I ever make it to New Mexico, we have to talk.

20 Sep 2012 2:28 AM

Steve - Amazing!!!! Wonderful, cannot wait for the movie.  I followed Mine that Bird to his hometown of Roswell, NM.  (What a horse groupie I am)  Somewhere I read the owners were having a "Mine that Bird" day in NM and everyone was invited.  It was one of the greatest experiences to visit him at his ranch, the owners were so hospitable and welcoming.  Dr. Blach kept introducing us as "those little gals" that came all the way from Ca. to see our bird!   Ya gotta love a fellow that calls "ladies of a certain age" little gals..... Met many family members, Chip, Bird's exercise rider, lots of happy people there that day.  It was a great celebration for a great horse and connections  plus the Ruidoso party at the All American Futurity.  I will never forget it.  What a ride!!  Thanks for your terrific article.

20 Sep 2012 5:23 AM
A Horsey Canuck

One of your best pieces by far, Steve. Of course, they are ALL great. I guess I am biased due to Mine That Bird's Cdn connections. Thank you for so much insight on a little horse, waiting in New Mexico, to be honoured on the big screen. Can't wait for your story on Summer Bird and for MTB's movie. Thanks so very much. You made this Canadian's day!

20 Sep 2012 7:55 AM

Loved that little horse (I guess I, too, have a thing for little horses from Canada).

Think about it: hit the board in all three of the Triple Crown races.  

I believe we would have seen a different outcome (Roman Brother, anyone?) if he had stayed with Chip Wooley.

Anyways, looking forward to the movie.

20 Sep 2012 10:34 AM

Mine That bird was great.  But personally I'd like to see something about August Belmont; Beldame; Peter Pan; Rowe; the Dwyer brothers; Man O War; Eclipse... the staples and greats of this sport.

Modern day:  Sunday Silence; Ferdinan; Alysheba; Forego; Kelso; John Henry...

Mine that bird was a Kentucky Derby longshot that never did anything else.  Hardly fits in the group mentioned above.

20 Sep 2012 12:14 PM

nicely done.  I hope the movie is as well done as your story.

(and picky point - the bones in the lower leg are the tibia and the FIBULA)

20 Sep 2012 12:57 PM
Mike Relva

Greg J.

How have you been?  We miss your comments.

20 Sep 2012 1:09 PM
Mike Relva

MTB didn't get his due. He's always had my respect and appreciation.

20 Sep 2012 1:11 PM

Can't agree more that the Bird should never have left Wooley's care. I don't think that Lukas is a trainer who can respond to an individual horse's needs, Hall of Fame or not.

Thanks again, Steve, for a wonderful visit to a warm spot in the past. Mine that Bird certainly deserves to enjoy his life of leisure.  He did what he needed to do.

20 Sep 2012 1:36 PM

what a great story, didnt know the inside scoop.And lots of scoop there was!I hope "they" can do the story justice,you certainly did, thanks :>

20 Sep 2012 2:09 PM
Love 'em all

I've never enjoyed a Kentucky Derby more than Mine That Bird's win in 2009 ... watching on TV.  

Honestly, I start laughing everytime I think about that little brown gelding and Calvin upsetting the works that day!  Sooo much fun and excitement ..... not exactly what was expected earlier that rainy Saturday.  

Love that 'Little Bird' ... and his story along with Canonero's are tops with this fan.  Can't wait to see both movies.

Terrific storytelling, Mr. Haskin.  Thank you for the fun reading.  

20 Sep 2012 2:11 PM

Wow! Beautifully written! I love this story and can't wait to see the film!  Skeet Ulrich is playing Chip and Christian Kane is playing Mark Allen. Here's a pic of the two that Skeet tweeted from filming in Las Cruces, NM:

20 Sep 2012 2:51 PM

I recorded and have kept the Derby show for that year. Sometimes when I need some inspiration, Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Les Brown and all the others just don't touch me the way a little brown horse and his hard-working folks decided to try for a dream. I was also humbled by their dedication to their fans by standing out the next day giving away the roses from the blanket to their fans. i was hoping a tradition may have started but was not to be. It did hurt to watch the Preakness and watch him closing on Rachel Alexandra, who was tiring, but he ran out of race track. The throat surgery did not help the rest of his year. I too had feel that a change of trainer to Lukas was not a good match. In an interview, Dr. Blach seems surprised that people still stop by to see the Bird or call to inquire about him.

With the upcoming movie, I hope that instead of using him as a pony on the track, they let his star burn bright for all to see. I don't think the Kentucky Horse Park would mind him staying there.

20 Sep 2012 9:42 PM

I never tire of watching the video clips on HRTV about MTB and the story behind that race.  Do have one big request to those making the movie, however: Please consider having Calvin Borel play himself.  No one else can do this.  He is far too unique and an actor would not do the story justice playing Mr. Borel.  I anticipate that this movie will increase attendance at many racetracks--at least, for a while.  It might bring in new fans who have never been to a horserace before.  That's what got me hooked on horseracing.  Saw Secretariat win the Belmont (so many, many years ago) but the movie is what brought back those memories.  Got me up and out to Golden Gate Fields soon after.  It might get other new fans, also, enthused enough to actually go to the races.  By the way, love the fact that MTB didn't get sold and moved elsewhere but, instead, stayed at the home of one of his owners.  This, to me, demonstrated great values and appreciation of the horse over $$$$$$.

20 Sep 2012 9:56 PM

This is a great article on Mine That Bird.  I love the story and I can't wait for the movie to be completed so that we can see it on the big screen.  The two actors that are in the movie - Christian Kane ('Mark Allen') and Skeet Ulrich ('Chip Woolley') also starred in another movie together based on the 1800's American West called "Into the West".  These two guys are no strangers to being around horses as they both have a love for horses.  I believe that Mine that Bird should have stayed with Chip Woolley as there was no bond like this between a man and a horse.  The love, trust and loyalty of these two was so great and is depicted in the pictures and videos throughout the internet.  The story and movie of Mine That Bird will show audiences that even the smallest can have the biggest heart and be a winner!

20 Sep 2012 10:15 PM

Thanks for bringing Mine That Bird back to us, Steve!  I loved him, thought he was awfully cute, too. :)  I started following Dullahan because he's MTB's half-brother.  Looking fwd to your article on Summer Bird, and to the movie.  It's good that some positive horse racing movies are cropping up.  Secretariat was really well-done, enjoyed Seabiscuit.  Hopefully people will see the sport for what it really is, and not what it's been portrayed as in the media this yr.

21 Sep 2012 9:36 AM
Mike Relva


Totally agree with your comments.

21 Sep 2012 11:43 AM
Age of Reason

I'd like to think that I will never forget any of the Kentucky Derbies I've watched live (on tv, that is, haven't had the chance to actually go yet), but I'm sure the 2009 Derby is one I'll never forget. I was actually out of state that day visiting a dear cousin who would later pass away from cancer, and though I'd picked Jackson Bend (go ahead and laugh, hindsight being what it is) the race understandably wasn't the first thing on my mind. Luckily, she had the television tuned to Derby coverage when I walked in that afternoon so it all worked out. I had trouble finding Jackson Bend going down the backstretch, so I gave up and started waiting for Pioneerof The Nile to put them away after a dream trip. When things got hairy at the top of the stretch I was trying to focus on the leaders battling in the middle of the track, then suddenly I saw somebody shoot through on the rail. For some reason, I thought it was Papa Clem (mistook one set of mostly-black silks for another) and as it turned out I wasn't the only one--ain't that right, Durkin? His victory was so overpowering that my uncle, whose knowledge of tv sports extended no further than SEC football, said at the eighth pole, "Well he's got it now, he should just coast." In the words of Nick Zito, "That's why they run the race!"  

21 Sep 2012 12:15 PM
Linda in Texas

Some of your descriptions Steve had me laughing out loud like "two greenhorns from the sticks" where i live i can readily agree with 'them' terms. And Woolly saying to Figueroa when they arrived in Baltimore, "well we can't go any further, we're at the Ocean."  I died laughing again. Down here where i live you give directions usually by telling someone just go down that road til you can't go no further, turn right then when you come to a fork in the road you are there. Steve, you are the best.

And i love Carl Nafzger finding Chip and giving him a little appreciation.

The sport of Bull Riding one of my three favorites and really anything Rodeo,(will any one ever forget Bodacious The Bull, to me the greatest bull ever and inducted in The Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1999.) Died in 2000 from a foot infection as the antibiotics caused kidney failure. Lots of little Bodacious's running around now.

And Carl Nafzger was inducted into The Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2008 was a great bull rider, one of the best. And as long as i am on the subject, the only other greatest Bull Rider was Gentleman Jim Shoulders. Happened to be in a Portland Airport eons ago and he was there waiting to take a plane to Dallas like i was. I had been to many a rodeo just because of him. He was kind not at all upset to be bugged. Even asked me if i had any boys and i told him 2, he took 2 wonderful 8 x 10 photos out of his leather carrying case and signed his name to a photo for each son whose name he addressed his signature to. I treasure those photos. Even my son Edward with Down Syndrome knew who he was. He is now no doubt with Mr. Shoulders. Rest in Peace Mr. Shoulders.  

Nascar Racing and Thoroughbred Horse Racing are the other 2 sports that make me as we say down south, happy as a pig in slop!. Sorry for you easterners, we do talk different in the South West.

Even those of us with a little education. Just comes with the territory.

Just a great read Steve, i loved Mine That Bird from the get go and you published posts about my enthusiasm anyway even though you had not considered him as a serious contender. I love Mine

That Bird and have written recently how he spends his days.

I really think he deserves to be

where he can be seen and admired by many more who no doubt would love to.

Thanks to all the people who lived that tremendous story. It was real.

And love you Mine That Bird, that is a given. Pepper's Pride and Mine That Bird both from my sister State of New Mexico. Yippee Yi Yay!

Sorry ya'll couldn't help myself.

Now i will take my cowboy hat off and yes it is black and act like a lady. Just down to earth being born in the 40's! Hope i did not bore anyone. I just love good stories, great people and superb writers like Steve. And animals of all kinds!

Thanks Steve, i cannot wait for the movie. I wish you could get a part in the movie!!!!


21 Sep 2012 8:00 PM

Ya got to love the working man's horse like Mine that Bird or Sunday Silence that can come in and thumb their noses at the "blue bloods."  The poorly bred, the colts that can't sell, the hard luck stories (Sunday Silence's truck overturned due to the driver's heart attack and the colt nearly was killed). This is what makes the Derby so great!  It simply can not be bought.

21 Sep 2012 8:06 PM

I can't imagine taking a Derby winner away from his trainer nor can I imagine a jockey abandoning a Derby winner for another horse.  Thanks for a great story  - I love that little horse and think his humans let him down.

21 Sep 2012 11:40 PM
Paula Higgins

ITA with everyone who says he shouldn't have left Chip Woolley. Mike Relva, if you recall, you and I were very much on MTB's bandwagon when a certain someone I shall leave nameless was running the little guy into the ground. Always liked MTB. As for movies, when they make one about THE QUEEN, Zenyatta, then life will be complete and I can die happy. Can't wait to see her statue at Santa Anita.

21 Sep 2012 11:54 PM
Love 'em all

Age of Reason, Jackson Bend ran the next year's Kentucky Derby in 2010.  Super Saver won that year with Calvin 'in the saddle'.  

Sorry about your cousin.

22 Sep 2012 7:27 AM
Mike Relva


Exactly. Very happy that a certain blog site is no longer in operation. Getting by using theater doesn't cut it. My opinion MTB was used up, he need a rest. Also, transferring him to a trainer I don't respect was a mistake. One day I will visit him, considering it for the past yr.

22 Sep 2012 1:20 PM
Age of Reason

Thanks for the correction, Love 'em All. It's easy to remember the Derby winners, but harder to remember one's Derby picks--particularly when, in the case of yours truly, my Derby pick and the Derby winner are rarely the same thing! Lol. I have a copy of Steve's book "Horse Racing's Holy Grail: the Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby" in which I write the name of my Derby pick every year and, after the race, the place in which they finished. Talk about frustration staring you in the face. Anyhow, after digging it out of my bookshelf I remembered that my pick in '09 was Friesan Fire. Embarassing that a two-turn graded stakes winner by A.P. Indy (Friesan Fire) ran far worse in the Derby than an obscurely-bred future sprinter (Jackson Bend). Such is the nature of the game; and as I said before, "That's why they run the race!"

22 Sep 2012 1:31 PM
Linda in Texas

So True Paula Higgins, i cannot wait either to see Zenyatta's Statue at Santa Anita mainly because she is still alive. Usually a horse is honored with a statue after they are gone. I am glad she is still with us healthy and thriving.  With all of the unfortunate injuries to so many strong stallions, just reminds me even more how great her owners and handlers were to have her make it through the years she raced with NO INJURIES.

It would be ideal for her to be there for the dedication, but being in foal, not a good idea at all.

How about Old Friend's for Mine That Bird? He is a Kentucky Derby Winner and would have many more than 3 or 4 a week as he has in New Mexico come visit him.

Just a thought. Not my call. He deserves it though.

22 Sep 2012 1:58 PM
Mike Relva


Yes but of us were supporters of MTB when on another blog site the host allowed constant chaos to flow freely. Happy the host "called it a day". When you're short on talent, getting by on theater doesn't cut it.

22 Sep 2012 5:15 PM

Looking forward to the movies until I see them usually,thanks to Hollywood's interpretation. Can't agree more that a Man o' War movie should be made with emphasis on Mr. Belmont and family influence on the TB breeding and racing. A great movie could be made of Battleship(son of Mow) the only American horse to win the Grand National and I believe still the smallest horse to win. The Brits like to refer to him as that U.S. pony. Dorothy Ours is coming out with book about him. Should be great. Thanks Steve for your story and updates and keep your fingers crossed that they don't Hollywood it up too much. It's not needed as your story tells it.

22 Sep 2012 6:58 PM

Thanks to the reader that posted the link to the story about MTB re: his retirement in NM.  Somehow I missed it.  I love this horse and his grit.  As someone pointed out, he won, came in 2nd and was a great 3rd.  This horse ran his heart out and he deserves so much more respect.  However, that being said, I know Dr. Blach is right across the street and loves this horse very much.  I do hope he gets to be a pony horse .  Having seen him at his home in New Mexico, he is living a great life.  Go visit.  You will not regret it.  Just down home great hospitable people.....

22 Sep 2012 11:18 PM
Mike Relva

Intended to say both.

23 Sep 2012 2:32 AM
El Kabong

Great article, but then I am now partial to the horse who made me feel like I had been punched in the gut on derby day. I won't ever forget that nausea of feeling like I had blown months of research only to have such an "impossible result." But, you must live and learn. Mind That Bird, who to this day is constantly disrespected by handicappers, will always get the respect he deserves from me and I am glad you feel the same way Steve. He ran his heart out in all three legs of the TC and deserves to have his story told. Maybe he'll get the respect he has earned. I am looking forward to this tale being relived on screen.

23 Sep 2012 9:20 AM

Thanks, Mike Relva. Same back atcha.

23 Sep 2012 6:03 PM
Andy Tuck

I am not much of a bettor, did bet $5 on Mine That Bird for the Derby. Everyone laughed, he walked to the starting gate like a "pony". The rest is history. I am still laughing. Love that Bird.

24 Sep 2012 4:48 PM

Another horse that won the derby against all odds, not a 50 to 1 shot, but a horse that overcome a multitude of problems to even get in a starting gate, was Assault. Besides being an underdog who defied the odds his entire life, I heard he had quite a colorful personality. His story would translate well on the silver screen. I wonder if anyone will ever consider it? Each and every triple crown winner is special to the sport, and the sport is an intinsic piece of American history. I'm thinking mini series.

25 Sep 2012 6:05 AM

I went to the Preakness for Bird's try and Mike Smith admitted that he, not the horse blew it. I thought he would have a real chance with Smith in the irons during the Belmont because he now had a chance to get to know the horse and he knew the track already. I went to the WV Derby and he was a little lackluster there but the crowd was STO and the traffic was backed up for miles. I then read he needed surgery and he was mishandled after that so who knows how he would have done if things had not changed. He is a great little horse and would be a perfect fit in the Ky Horse Park. You just don't know which of his visitors out west will become a lifelong fan from a visit with that Derby winner. For a little horse he casts a huge shadow. Best of luck Bird I hope we meet again.

02 Oct 2012 4:41 PM

This was a fabulous article on Mine That Bird, Steve.  Like someone said in one of the posts above, Mine That Bird was let down by his humans.  It sort of makes me angry on MTB's behalf that so many people let him down when he needed someone to be a champion for him or refused to put MTB first.  

I can't wait to go and see 50-1, along with the movie about Canonero II, a horse who I heard about endlessly as a child, and was legendary in my home.  

Thanks again, Steve, for printing Mine That Bird's journey in the Triple Crown races.  It would be nice of he did wind up at Old Friends, just as Sarava did.  It would be a nice honor to bestow onto a highly-deserving champion.

05 Oct 2012 3:53 PM

Recent Posts



Social Media

More Blogs