The Real Story Behind the '50-1' Shot

A couple of years ago, I wrote the back story of Mine That Bird’s amazing Triple Crown journey. Now, with the motion picture “50-1” having its premiere in Albuquerque, N.M. Wednesday, March 19, I have added to it (and it is quite lengthy) in an effort to tell the entire story as I witnessed it.

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, his best effort a second-place finish in the Borderland Derby.

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 or 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 to 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 most 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. The fabric of Thoroughbred racing in 2009 had been woven into one of the oddest patterns anyone had ever seen. By the time Woolley hit the road for Baltimore, crutches were sexy, all cowboy hats were black, and post-race Derby interviews had reached a new low. And in New Mexico, for the first time ever, Quarter-Horses had to take a backseat to a Thoroughbred.

Before Woolley could embark on the journey to Kentucky, 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 was willing to accept any help and advantage he could get. He 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 his machine on the horse every day.

“He thrived, and his muscles were in excellent shape,” said Johnson, an Australian native who had 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. The question was, ready for what?

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 with a fu manchu mustache, 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.

Woolley would stand in that same spot, as if waiting for any member of the media to come by and ask about his 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 that day 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 200 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. I watched the race on the big screen in the paddock, along with Jerry Hollendorfer and Nick Zito. It was a dark, gloomy day and difficult to make out the images on the screen. Just as I thought Pioneerof the Nile was going to hold off everyone, here came this unfamiliar figure dashing up the rail like a frightened rabbit. Before I had a chance to absorb what I was seeing, the figure was five lengths in front and continuing to draw away. I could hear the faded voice of track announcer Mark Johnson just enough to make out the name Mine That Bird. Nothing registered. I had forgotten who he was, only that he had Calvin Borel on his back and was so close to the rail as usual, the jockey would return with white paint on his left boot.

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 with the same quizzical look. “I got nuthin,” I said. “Neither do I,” he replied. 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.”

Also watching in Canada, from the jock’s room, was Chantal Sutherland, who had ridden Mine That Bird four times as a 2-year-old, winning three stakes on the horse. “That’s my horse!” she bellowed, at first stunned, and then realizing the missed opportunity of a lifetime.

Following the race, Woolley provided perhaps the most uncomfortable post-race interview ever on a Derby telecast when he abruptly ended the interview by NBC’s Kenny Rice. Too many worlds were converging on Woolley all at once and he didn’t know how to handle it. He eventually would embrace the spotlight and the media and would offer intelligent and profound responses in all future interviews.

He would later explain at Belmont, ““It’s been a lot of fun. Of course, the media attention is something we’re not quite used to, but we’re getting more used to it by the day. I guess the one thing it’s done is probably validate a career. I spent 25 years to get to this point, and it’s been a lot of hard work. I went broke a couple of times, so it’s probably more of a validation stamp more than anything. At first it was hard to enjoy, but now it’s kind of loosened up. We’re enjoying it and just living for the moment and taking it all in, and we’ll ride this out through the Belmont. I haven’t had lot of time to reflect on everything. It probably will hit me when I get back home.”

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, who did not have the smoothest of trips, 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 Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas. He never won another race, failing to even hit the board in his last six starts. Almost every year since, Woolley would gravitate to Churchill Downs on Derby week to relive his glory, soak in the atmosphere, and stroll through the backstretch, seeing familiar faces and remembering that surreal time in 2009.

Mine That Bird’s journey was one that is not likely to be forgotten, and as you can see, the producers of “50-1” had a lot to work with. In the case of Mine That Bird, life indeed imitated art, and now with “50-1,” art needs only 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.

Mine That Bird steals a carrot out of his groom's back pocket at Saratoga

Mine That Bird meets fellow Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide at the Kentucky Derby Museum

Mine That Bird still as alert as ever

Chip Woolley leads Mine That Bird around the Churchill Downs paddock again, with Funny Cide followiing.


Leave a Comment:


Still love this little plain brown horse.  I wonder what might have been if he hadn't been taken from Woolley.  Still, watch out for 2YO's from Canada in the Derby!!!

18 Mar 2014 5:21 PM

I found myself smiling, then chuckling, and enjoying and savoring every single word, Steve.  I've been looking forward to this movie all winter, and finally found out it will be coming to my neck of the woods in mid-April. It is the stuff of dreams.  Thanks for another wonderful and heartwarming backstory. Looking for many more to come.

18 Mar 2014 6:31 PM

what agreat story.would love to see another underdog win Derby.

18 Mar 2014 6:32 PM

Great article Mr. Haskin!  Thank you! :)#50to1themovie

18 Mar 2014 8:30 PM

Thanks Steve, I love your writing and your analysis. Don't know if you realize it, but I've been able to pick the Derby winner the past few years from reading your analysis of the workouts and preps. One note on the story - I believe it was Tom Durkin who called the Derby with Mine That Bird, because he missed him until almost the wire, which he said was part of why he stopped calling the Derby. The Triple Crown trail is always amazing and amusing, and quite often deeply touching, especially with your insights. Thanks again.

18 Mar 2014 9:12 PM
Mike Relva

Steve,thanks for your story on MTB. I've defended him many times when others bashed this truly special animal. Illustrates what level some will drop bashing a Derby winner as well as in the money in the other two. Can't wait to see the movie.

18 Mar 2014 11:03 PM

Such a sweet story. But, visiting Roswell, I learned that things are not always as they seem. You see, I was there on October 22,23, 2013. I had the chance to meet Leonard Blach, owner of Bird, in the hallway ata Hearing. He was there as Expert Witness for Valley Meat, owned by his friend and neighbor; Valley meat is located just behind Doc Blach's farm. He testified in support of killing 121 horses per day there. For human consumption. He testified about the safety of Equine drugs entering the human food chain. This is the true story behind Mine That Bird and his owners. The movie is only a charming story, not the true story.

18 Mar 2014 11:19 PM
Bill Rinker

Really enjoyed the story Steve and am looking forward to the movie. As I remember I thought Muskett Man impeded Mine That Birds stretch run just enough to break his momentum. I also remember Wolley being frustrated with Mine That Birds placement early in the race. I think he wanted him to settle well off, and make one sustained move late in the race. I really liked the horse.  

18 Mar 2014 11:38 PM


18 Mar 2014 11:38 PM

Please report the true story, Mr. Haskin.

18 Mar 2014 11:58 PM
Senator L

He should have been a 100 - 1

19 Mar 2014 12:47 AM

I second that MZ, love this little gelding to death, he will always have a special place in my heart. He ran the derby like no other.

19 Mar 2014 3:02 AM

GREAT story Steve!

This may be my faorite Derby of all time.

This horse was not even in the TV screen the track announcer forgot to mention him on the first call and to win for fun. Just incredible..

Also I hit the excata another reason I loved it so much.

Great blog Steve!!

19 Mar 2014 8:41 AM
Steve Haskin

Zendoc, thank you for the kind words. Tom Durkin called the race on TV. I was at the track listening to track announcer Mark Johnson call the race. Tom actually missed Mine That Bird until was several lengths in front and took some ribbing afterward.

Carter, as I stated, this was Mine That Bird's story as I witnessed it. If I had been at the hearings it would be a different story. I certainly cant report a story based solely on your say-so.

19 Mar 2014 10:03 AM
Sid Gustafson DVM
19 Mar 2014 10:31 AM
Abigail Anderson

I was another Canadian screaming their lungs out when Mine That Bird came home the winner in the Kentucky Derby. Then, as Chip Woolley became the darling of the press, I do remember thinking how much personality he had. The story about him driving the horse all the way to the Derby started to remind me of the kind of details that went into some of the better racehorse movies of the past, like "Broadway Bill." Still, I was very surprised when I first read that a movie of Mine That Bird was in production since, as you and others have pointed out, recent racing movies have been kind of so-so. Now that I've seen the trailer & read your column, Steve, I'm thinking that "50-1" might have distinct possibilities. In the case of the movie, its lighter side may well keep the story moving and allow it to dodge the kind of technical stuff that racing junkies might love but the public finds a yawner. And I just love having this "inside story" with me when I go off to see it, since it reminds me that it is indeed the hard-working trainers and their horses that made this sport and still keep it going -- and so few of them ever get known. And thank you for the photos, Steve. 'Love the one of Bird stealing the carrot.

19 Mar 2014 10:40 AM
Mike Relva


Where is your proof?

19 Mar 2014 11:18 AM
Love 'em all

My favorite Derby, period.  Have never enjoyed a KD more than this one, and I wouldn't change one thing about that day!  

I've probably read this story at least "50-One times" and intend to keep reading it, as it will always be one of my favorite Steve Haskin stories.  Thanks for reposting this "classic"; you've made a lot of folks very happy.

Love the pics.  Can't wait to see the movie.

19 Mar 2014 11:48 AM


As usual, wonderful writing!  Can you offer any analysis as to why MTB's performance level dropped off after the Belmont?  Long grinding year?  I hoped we'd have a deja vu in the 2009 BC Classic but not to be.  

19 Mar 2014 12:49 PM

I am looking forward to seeing this movie about a gutsy little gelding and Calvin Borel.  I always thought his owners were suspect, involved in some questionable activities in Alaska politics, and I am no supporter of horse slaughter.  But @Carter, that is not Mine That Bird's story, be it true or false.  It's the humans.  Let's celebrate the horse.  

19 Mar 2014 12:56 PM
Alicia McQuilkin

Thank you for this updated story! I saw a lot of negative and nasty comments after DRF posted the trailer for "50-1" that detracted from my excitement for another underdog-horse-story-made-movie.

The 2009 Derby was one burned into my memory, much because I was so focused on studying for Finals I nearly missed the whole race as I had the year before, sadly turning on the TV just after Eight Belles went down. I remember being awed by replays of Rachel's Oaks (before I muted the TV so I could focus on Genetics) then being completely stunned by MTB's move. And not being able to focus on anything else until the end of the broadcast and replay after replay. It was certainly a great year for 3yo!!

19 Mar 2014 1:30 PM

Great writing.  I enjoyed it so much, and I love that little that little guy Mind That Bird.

19 Mar 2014 3:22 PM

Steve ~ another fine story and example of heart, passion and what we can not figure - Destiny!  The tale tells a story of a dream and a journey.  This was Chip Woolley's moment and Mind That Bird brought him to it.....when the brown charm was handed over to the hand of D.Wayne Lucas - it was over. From my experience, I did not expect much more from Mine That Bird across the track as he carried his heavy heart in the races that followed weighing him more down than the allowed pounds could ever do...but he ran because his natural instinct was to run and although he did not hit the board in those last races, to those of us who know this arena he remained the Champion of the 2009 Derby and of our hearts.  He earned well a retirement of green pastures and quiet moments afar from the crowd that no longer would recall - without your post!  

I'd like to thank you for reminding everyone.

19 Mar 2014 9:59 PM

Having witnessed the shock of Canonero and Mine That Bird, I go back and forth on which one was more amazing...But it is very clear that your stories on the two are just fabulous...Thank you for giving us so much insight and pleasure

19 Mar 2014 9:59 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

On the eve of the world premiere of "50-1," I read this story with great interest. A fantastic set of events and a truly memorable Kentucky Derby!  Thank you, Steve Haskin, for sharing it with your fans and Bird's fans.  As I watched a replay of the 2009 Derby I was again awestruck at the stretch run.  What a ride!

19 Mar 2014 11:44 PM


Get a grip.  Mine that Bird is a horse.  He knows nothing of Valley Meat, a hearing 4 years after his run for the roses nor equine drugs acquired through consumption.  You have a problem with the connections do your own story or movie.  Steve's story is about the horse's trail to the 2009 Kentucky Derby and unrelated to your crocodile tears hearing.  Go picket Valley Meat!

20 Mar 2014 12:32 AM

Carter, I believe you. I've heard the same from other sources. I trust that Mine that Bird's derby win will keep him from being slaughtered and slabbed on someone's plate. Horse racing is a business, not all persons involved in the sport love horses, that's a fairy tale. However, most people do care what others think of them. That alone will keep little Bird safe. I deplore horse slaughter and I'm ready for battle if they open a slaughter house in my "back yard". Team up with others in your area who feel as you do and see what can be done. Good luck.

20 Mar 2014 12:15 PM
Fran Loszynski

Your articles are never too lengthy Steve never apologize for all the racing info you give us. When I first met Birdstone at Gainesway Farm his huge big eye just starred at me for five minutes. I said to Mine That Bird's Dad  You ought to be in pictures, and his son is. Wow!

20 Mar 2014 1:12 PM
Jean in Chicago

Never under estimate those little dark horses from Canada.

I love the picture of MTB helping himself to a carrot!  And being led around the paddock, he looks like he's acknowledging the crowd's applause--"Thank you, my pleasure, thank you".

mz-I also wonder about the trainer switch.  This isn't to insult any trainer, but sometimes a trainer/horse match-up works and sometimes it doesn't.  Why break-up a winning combination?

20 Mar 2014 2:37 PM
Fernando Rodriguez Larrain de Lavalle

amazing story!!!!

20 Mar 2014 3:59 PM

ah, little birds.

I remember that Derby Day like it was yesterday.  I remember looking at his Canadian performance and his recent training at altitude and his being a little bay horse in a plain looking wrapper and thinking, "Canonero".  So did I go out and bet him to win and dream of another fairy tale?  Noooo….I put $2 on him to show……. sigh.

If I remember correctly Mine That Bird's connections were at the entrance of Churchill Downs the day after the Derby giving away the roses from the winner's blanket.  That was pretty cool.

Thanks Steve!

20 Mar 2014 4:19 PM
Pedigree Ann

"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."

There you have it. Mine That Bird was the fittest horse in the race. Sometimes, especially at 10f+, fitness is as important, or moreso, than innate "talent."

Giving MTB to Lukas was a wrong-headed move. Lukas decided that MTB wanted to run as a miler, which was so contrary to his race record that I wondered about Mr. L's sanity. No wonder he never won another race. Should have been trained for the new BC Marathon and its preps.

21 Mar 2014 9:34 AM

Being the horse nut I am, I watch Derby Day coverage all day beginning to end. I absorb as much as I can from the profiles of the horses, trainers and owners and the behind the scene stories. I usually have a favorite though my favorite might not always be my pick to win. This year my favorite was Frisian Fire, but had not definitively made up my mind that if I were a betting person, I would bet on him to win.

Then came Mine that Bird. This little, unknown (in US) colt that had been hauled across country in a horse trailer by a man hobbling about in cast on his leg. While I taking all this in, a little voice way down told me that this colt was going to win. I had about $100 in "extra money" and came within a cats whisker of placing a bet on Mine That Bird. When he came roaring across that finish line, I could have kicked myself a hundred times for not placing that bet.

The following week my farrier came and we spoke at length about the race and how we both loved how this little guy ran away with it all that Saturday.

Mine That Bird was and is the little people's horse.

I plan to go see the movie at the theater and will of course add the DVD to my horse movie collection.

There are times when we need a feel good story in a movie and this I think is one of those years.

I think too that Mine That Bird's journey reminds us that we just never know where greatness is going to come from and sometimes it is from that little underdog waiting at the back to show what he or she can do.

Thank you for another beautifully written piece of nostalgia.

And I too love that picture of him snatching that carrot.

21 Mar 2014 3:19 PM
Paula Higgins

Mine That Bird was one of the best stories to ever come out of the Kentucky Derby. I loved that little guy and like Mike Relva, spent lots of time defending him. I also remember his Canadian wins as a 2 yo MZ and whenever certain people acted like he chopped liver, I would bring this up. As for the oxygen boost, human athletes will often train at higher altitudes for exactly the same reason. Figure skaters were famous for this and it definitely gave them an edge. Thanks for the article Steve. I hope to see the movie.

21 Mar 2014 9:42 PM
Mike Relva


Thanks for that. How are you?

22 Mar 2014 11:17 AM

I really did get a kick out of this story.  I did when it was actually happening, and I did again with Steve's re-telling it here.

One indelible memory I have is something that happened in the days leading up to the 2009 Breeders Cup at Santa Anita.  I was standing at my regular watering hole on the Mezzanine floor and noticed that Chip Woolley, black hat, mustache, jeans, and crutches in tow, was standing in line behind me.  He wasn't surrounded by people (i.e., no entourage)...just minding his own business waiting his turn to be served.  The surreal part was how quiet it became and how most everybody was just looking at him in some sort of silent recognition.

Honestly, it was like he was some sort of Rock Star!  And that was 6 months after the Derby!  It was pretty amazing!

22 Mar 2014 12:58 PM
Paula Higgins

Mike Relva, thank you, I am doing well and I hope you are too! Made me happy to see you and MZ posting about MTB :). Loved seeing these pictures of him. Thanks again Steve.

22 Mar 2014 9:03 PM
Matthew W

I played MTB in the BCup Juvy, over that aweful synthetic track that he abhorred, I remember thinking Pioneerof The Nile was going to win it, and Durkin fumbling for Mine That Bird's name like Bataglia does every race--we were all shocked, and, yes, he should've been 100-1, after all, Giocomo had run ok in bigger races, and he was 50-1---but Birdie fooled them all, including me, when he threw a realnice race at Rachel--his Preakness was a bit like Cannonero II's, it validated his Derby run, and oh, what a run---never will see THAT again, will we?

22 Mar 2014 10:10 PM

No one tells these stories better than Steve Haskin. Racetracks provide a place where hopes and dreams can come true and Mine That Bird will always provide inspiration for those who are battling long odds in life.

23 Mar 2014 7:03 AM

Once again brought it ALL back again better than any movie ever will!    I rooted for this horse and his connections because of their "humble" beginnings.    This "plain brown horse" puts me in mind of another "media" darling from many, many moons ago....He too was a horse no one counted on to do anything and yet he lifted the spirits of an entire nation in a very dark time.....SEABISCUIT.    And even further in the past was yet another "dark wonder"....BLACK GOLD.   This sprot is full of stories like this and I think our generation has one of the BEST writers covering it for us as is evidenced by this and the many other articles that steal our hearts and bring us back to exactly why we LOVE Thoroughbreds.  THANKS STEVE!!!

23 Mar 2014 4:35 PM
Back Home in LA

Nobody tells a better story than  you, Steve! You have the writer's gift of drawing your readers into the black printed words and suddenly the reader becomes one with your story, traveling back into a time warp, totally absorbed by your words. The story never seems long enough when it is a good one. Well done, Steve, and thank you for sharing Mine That Bird's story with us. It was such a great race to watch, with Calvin and MTB flying up the rail and the race caller not even catching it. I kept thinking oh my gosh, who is this horse, and Calvin Borel is on him. Who doesn't love the long shot, the little known people, who once again remind us that dreams can come true.

I met Mine That Bird at the KY Derby Museum last year. He had been out with the resident mini, Winston, on lead eating grass and the attendant stopped to let us take photos and talk to him. MTB was a ham, loved all the attention and showed off by grabbing Winston's lead rope and trying to lead him back to the barn. Chip Woolley was standing in the museum lobby, black hat, jeans and boots, and after I confirmed his identity with the lobby desk, I went to talk to him and get my photo with him. He was a regular guy, humble, but enjoyed being recognized and respected for what was his dream come true. No one who watched that race on tv will ever forget it, and those who were lucky enough to have bet on MTB will never forget him either!

24 Mar 2014 5:05 PM
Terry M.

I remember posting on Facebook before the Derby, "If the track comes up muddy, watch out for Mine That Bird." He was a favourite of mine after watching him run at two (thanks to television). I honestly believe jockey errors cost him the Preakness and Belmont. After going to Lukas, he seemed to lose all of his confidence. He wasn't given one easy race to get it back, and that was the end. He deserved better.

25 Mar 2014 12:43 PM

THANK YOU so much for reminding me again why I just love this horse and hope the movie finds its way to San Diego or at least close by.  My picks were the two "Birds" as I just thought Summer Bird had two very nice sons in the derby in 2009.  One a real looked and one as you say, a small horse in a plain brown wrapper.  Once I saw the jockey, that brought me up to really pay attention.  What a ride, what a victory, what a triple crown effort.  Plus I followed the ride even further and went to visit him in NM as his beautiful ranch home on MTB DAY IN NEW MEXICO.  He was such a character and looked so great in the post parade at Ruidoso.  He had quite a campaign and he ran his heart out.  What do I know?  Not much about horseracing, but I know that he will always and forever have a place in my heart along with so many others who have such fire and charisma.  The following year at the BC in Santa Anita, I ran into Chip.  He was there just enjoying himself.  No horses entered as I asked him, because I would have put a bit of money on any of them.  He loved that horse so much.  Thank you for your inside story.

25 Mar 2014 7:02 PM

This is the REAL story. It happened in 2009. That's what this is all about . A story for his fans to comment on this wonderful horse. NOTHING MORE !!!

27 Mar 2014 2:14 PM
nohorseslaughter Ortiz

I agree with Carter. Carter is NOT putting down MTB at all. The fact is that this article brings out the 1/2 owner Mark Allen's troubles, yet never mentions Dr. Leonard Blach's Pro horse slaughter stance. And BTW, Mark has come out on TV stating he is against horse slaughter. Carter has a racetrack history, as do I. I worked for Laz Barrera, my ex was asst trainer and saddled Affirmed for his Triple Crown win in the Belmont. Thank God MTB won the Derby and got all of this attention. Otherwise, being a gelding, he might have been going where no horse wants to go. Anyone remember Ferdinand? The movie is probably great but I'm one not going. I won't put a dime in a Pro slaughter vet/thoroughbred owners pocket. And I live in Roswell too.

27 Mar 2014 7:53 PM

Carter has been spewing her story all over the internet on every site about MTB. Get over it. 50 to 1 The Movie will go on whether she likes it or not. Thanks Bigtex and all those who support this little horse with the big heart.

27 Mar 2014 9:22 PM

I can attest to the truth of Carter's statements about Doc Blach testifying in favor of opening a horse slaughter plant not far from where Mine That Bird was stabled. Here is the link documenting the proof of his testimony

27 Mar 2014 10:09 PM
Jerry Turner

The only problem i see with the article is that Woolley was from Dalhart, TX. My wife went to school with his little brother.

28 Mar 2014 5:50 PM

A wonderfully written story Mr Haskin.

Thank you.

28 Apr 2014 7:41 PM

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