Wild and Wooley

by Dan Liebman

Trainer Bennie "Chip" Woolley Jr. had a rough start to the year. He crashed his motorcycle in some gravel and broke his leg, and his stable was having a tough time winning races, with one lone maiden winner from 32 starts.

On May 2, his year got better. Chip Woolley won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

Which is exactly the way the horse business works. One day you are up; one day you are down.

Chip Woolley had never won a graded stakes before. Stop. Make that had never had a starter in a graded stakes before. Now he will forever be known as the trainer of Mine That Bird, winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby.

There were lots of good story lines in the 2009 Derby, but it doesn't get any better than this.

After the race, Woolley wished people would stop talking about his crutches and the fact he vanned Mine That Bird from New Mexico to Kentucky himself. Talk about the horse, he suggested.

People break their legs, and many trainers trailer their own horses. But few win the Kentucky Derby.

Chip Woolley has done all of the above.

Through May 2, Steve Asmussen is the leading trainer in North America by wins with 207. In the past 25 years combined, Woolley has won 178 Thoroughbred races (he also trains Quarter Horses). The most in a single year: 21 in 2002.

The fact is, there are far more Chip Woolleys training horses than Steve Asmussens. Throughout the country, and around the globe for that matter, there are countless trainers who have in common a love of the horse and the dream of having their hands on the big horse.

Asmussen has had his hands on many good horses, most recently two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.

Now, Chip Woolley has his hands on a good horse, one that passed the other 18 runners in the Derby field like they were standing still.

Woolley gave much of the credit to jockey Calvin Borel, and for good reason. When Mine That Bird was squeezed at the start, Borel did not panic. He did what Calvin "Bo-Rail" does: get over to the rail. But even Borel could not have envisioned how full of run the gelding by Birdstone would be until he reached the three-eighths pole, when Mine That Bird was in overdrive while the others were seemingly staggering home.

Borel had to come off the rail just briefly, to pass Atomic Rain, but as he has done so often-including in his 2007 Derby score aboard Street Sense-he skimmed the rail to victory.

The previous day, Borel did not have to worry about being on the rail while riding Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).

While the Derby was stunning by the fact the winner paid $103.20, the Oaks was stunning by the fact the winner won by 201/4 lengths.

The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro was so dominant Borel could have guided her to the outside rail and still won.

While the Derby was Woolley's first time at Churchill Downs, Hal Wiggins, who trains Rachel Alexandra, has stabled at the track regularly since 1993. Try to find a nicer guy on the backstretch and the search will prove futile.

Unlike for Woolley, it was not Wiggins' first graded stakes win, though it was his first grade I victory. And, although he has trained good horses before, he certainly has not had one as talented as Rachel Alexandra in the shedrow.

Fans are already dreaming of a Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) featuring Rachel Alexandra and unbeaten champion Zenyatta.

As for the gutsy little gelding Mine That Bird, well, the weeks and months ahead will prove whether he is a one-hit wonder or racing's latest star.

Either way, we can now talk about the horse, not the crutches his trainer uses or the van he is transported in.

38 Comments

Leave a Comment:

HelenW

Has anyone else noticed that Calvin Borel gives his mounts a whole lot of rein when they're running- to my eye he gives them a lot more then most other jockeys. That and he generally looks a whole lot more relaxed on the horses then other jockeys. From the little I've seen his style seems to translate to more relaxed, confident horses. I hope other jockey's are studying up on his manner. Also- I like the bridle Mine That Bird wore in the derby- a real leather, uncomplicated bridle that had a slight western look to it. From my reading Mine That Bird was the most comfortable, most confident horse in the race- thanks to Woolley and Borel.

05 May 2009 10:09 AM
da3hoss

OMGosh Helen, you're right, just a little D-Ring snaffle....period...how old-school is that?

05 May 2009 1:04 PM
steve s

MINE THAT bird after first two furlongs run mile in 1:35.40 in ken dy.very decent.his close of 23 seconds on dirt should make him number one closer in the world.

05 May 2009 1:40 PM
Potsdam2

I noticed the bridle too. Very simple, very low key, nothing fancy.

05 May 2009 1:48 PM
Junie Wise,Rocky Road Farm

What I want to hear is what the the OTHER Derby Trainers say about his WIN!!!!!!..I think it has to go down in all of Horse Racing History as one of the,if not the All Time Upset in History!!!!..I hope he does well at "Old Hilltop"

05 May 2009 3:25 PM
ColetteMarie

I hate when I read so many negative, disgruntled comments about this great horse's race(not on this blog, but in general). Even if he never repeats his Derby performance, he was a great horse in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Horses are live beings & all the charts & stats in the world cannot predict what any living being can or will do. How would we like it if us humans were placed in statictical categories & were never supposed to break thru?

Calvin & Mine That Bird ran that race like they were one. Forget the stats & charts & watch the race again & recognize the beauty of the entire run. None of the other horses on the rail were running like this horse was. He was definately not the only horse on the rail during the race. Isn't it also Zenyatta's style to stay to the back & then come running? That is what closers do. Chip Woolley has said that he wants to bring Mine That Bird back & then make a run. So, when people talk about the horse being last thruout most of the race, So What!! That was the plan. Okay, maybe the trainer's plan was not to have him so far back, but all that proves is that this horse's turn of foot is remarkable. Every other horse on the field had the opportunity to have such a turn of foot & to do what Mine That Bird did. They did not. It only takes watching the race again to know that Mine That Bird was absolutely flying while ALL the other 18 horses looked like they were running in place. If they had the capability to do what Mine That Bird did, don't people think they would have. After all, what would they have been saving themselves for, another more important race??!!

Racing or no racing, that still 2 yr. old horse's run was nothing short of amazing. He switched leads effortlessly for 2 steps to get himself thru that hole in the rail when he broke thru to the front & effortlessly switched back. He did that, according to Calvin, all by himself. By doing that,he was able to shorten his shoulder span to fit thru the hole. Did anyone see him falter while doing that??!! He was absolutely flawless!!

Those with the jaded views who are so concerned with the stats & charts & how they lost money... go back & watch that horse's run & watch it without the jaded views. Maybe then you will see it for what it was... a thing of beauty. Anyone who owns a horse, any horse-even a Shetland pony, will tell you that to see a very young, still 2 yr. old, horse do what Mine That Bird did in this year's Kentucky Derby is amazing. His level of maturity & his courage is something not often seen in a horse of any age. Couple that with his obvious turn of foot & you have what we were priviliged to watch in this year's Derby, a spectacular horse.

To those neysayers, I challenge you to get on a 2 yr. old, going on 3 yr. old,horse, even a trained one. Try to get them to respond instantanously to you, going at any speed. Then come back & watch this horse. Watch him before, during & after the race. He was completely composed, with his ears forward. This is a very fast, good minded horse, all in one package. He deserved this win & so does his connections, for obviously having this horse fit and happy.

Every time I watch Mine That Bird's run, it is breathtaking. If it takes a horseowner to tell you how remarkable a performance Mine that Bird gave us, then so be it. I'm telling you. Toss aside all your stat sheets & watch that horse. Watch that race for beauty of horse racing, because this year's Derby was beauty in motion.

Colette

05 May 2009 3:52 PM
Barthart

To Colette Marie--I LOVE your blog!! You put the entire thing in wonderful perspective and articulately state what so many of us are thinking. Thanks for being such a great spokes-person for all of us who truly DO appreciate a spectacular performance when we see one!!!!! And countless thanks to Mine That Bird for giving us the thrill of a lifetime!!!!!

05 May 2009 4:12 PM
Sanmo 65

You do realise that Borel has NO say in the type of bit MTB ran in, don't you?  The jockey has NO input on the equipment (especially a jock who has never ridden the horse). That is totally the trainer's call.

05 May 2009 5:44 PM
Central Valley Dame

I was totally shocked by Mine That Bird's win.  Watching the replay after I was able to focus on MTB's run and it was a thing of beauty.  It seemed like he skimmed over the track.  It was just his time to win one could and should say.  I don't think that any other jockey could have given him a better trip.  Calvin Borel must pass on his confidence and quietness or maybe horses just sense that he understands them completely.  On Friday I watched him interact with Rachel Alexandra.  I swear that she seemed anxious and tense in the saddling barn.  She was looking around with her head up and she seemed to be searching for something or someone.  When Calvin came up and laid his hand on her head she relaxed and the head went down.  She looked so calm.  It was subtle but I believe that it happened that way.  I have heard that she is a very good tempered animal but that day she wanted Calvin.  He is special.  Thank God that he was available for Mr. Wooley when MTB needed a jock.  He may not be a trainer like Asmussen or Baffert but he is a damn good trainer to take a horse like MTB and do right by him in his training and jockey.  He is the best trainer for Mine That Bird!

05 May 2009 7:24 PM
needler in Virginia

I can only ask any of the nay-sayers and grumpies one question........ who the hell cares if the Bird NEVER wins another race??? He won this Derby in a style all his own, he won it fair and square, he won it flying as the rest followed in his wake, he won it smoothly and with what seemed no effort at all. He came back dirty, but not sweaty, ears up and ready to go some more, AND he came back not even blowing .......what more can you ask?? He won it, guys, so get over yourselves and give the horse and the jock the credit they deserve. Borel said "the horse won it", but we all know the team they made on Saturday was a thing of beauty. AND that even though Borel seemed to be only along for the ride, he did his job the best: he made certain his horse had a safe trip and made it easy for the horse to won.

Now won't it be a kick up the backside for all the grumpies to see him win again .......say, maybe in two weeks??? But even if the Bird does NOT win, he will always have this Derby next to his name and with no asterisks, thanks very much!!

Well done Bird and Borel!! CHEERS!

05 May 2009 9:37 PM
Mufasa Thedog

I hope Calvin keeps his mind on the race during the Preakness.  The way he was mugging for the camera on Rachel Alexandra reminds me of the way he acted on Street Sense in the derby.  He did it again in the Preakness, and got caught by Curlin.  I firmly believe if Calvin rode Street Sense to the wire instead of looking around, he would have won the race.

05 May 2009 11:33 PM
Meleen

It just goes to show you . . . all the handicapping, expert picks, etc., in the world  don't make flip when your ship comes in.  This is why I love this sport!

06 May 2009 12:07 AM
Bellwether

our connections WANT a one hit wonder please...LONG LIVE THE GELDING!!!...

06 May 2009 1:52 AM
da3hoss

Sanmo 65, the comments were the way Calvin rode with a loose rein and the neat headstall that the trainer picked, ;-)

06 May 2009 6:18 AM
mikecano54

slow half mile and a  sloppy track the inside rail has better footing and calvin was taught by some of the best also knowns what he is doing, experience pays.

06 May 2009 7:12 AM
Phat Day

I agree with many of the posts here.Calvin seems to have a real connection with the horses he is on.When they where all on TV the morning after the Derby, Mine That Bird could not get close enough to Calvin with his ears pricked.I love it!!

06 May 2009 7:53 AM
tbpartnerperson43

Funny, just looked at a picture of the gelding on the track and I think the bridle is new,  *grin*  They must have bought it special for the Derby. It isn't even darkened up yet.   I've had this horse in my Virtual Stable since he was two and went out of my mind when he charged down the stretch.  Can't wait to see him at Sunrise at Pimlico.  

06 May 2009 8:34 AM
grindstone619

If you get a chance, go back to 1996 and watch Mine That Bird's "grandpa" Grindstone come from behind and win the Derby--that was also a thrilling race.  I was at Belmont the day Birdstone flew by in a blur to pass Smarty Jones...I wanted a Triple Crown, but I cashed a nice ticket on Birdstone.  

06 May 2009 9:42 AM
Whatever

The overhead camera shot of the derby clearly shows how much faster the little Bird Horse was going than anyone else. I hope this little horse is for real, its nice to see regular people in the winners circle instead of a bunch of stuffed shirts. That was a great derby.

06 May 2009 10:15 AM
Karen in Indiana

Hey Colette, great blog! You said it! We were blessed to see 3 wonderful races last weekend - Rachel Alexandra's effortless win by a mile (almost literally), Einstein's refusal to be beat, and Mine That Bird's amazing run over the mud and through the field. Wow! It doesn't get any better than that!

06 May 2009 10:28 AM
Jimmy

Giacomo was 4th in S.A.derby last out,M.T.B. was 4th in sunland Derby last out.Looks like the western air is enough to step up to the next level come the first saturday in May!

06 May 2009 12:25 PM
Mary K.

There's a whole lot to be said for a gelding when it comes to training and running -- they are much easier and have their minds on the job at hand.  Hey, what's with MTB's bridlepath?? As soon as I saw that, I knew there was an affiliation with racing quarter horses!!  Welcome cowboys.

06 May 2009 2:12 PM
drewclearwhenroused

whatever says:

"its nice to see regular people in the winners circle instead of a bunch of stuffed shirts"

you do realize that the horse was bought for 400k and the owner just inherited 30 million dollars??? I do not know how "regular" that is...

06 May 2009 4:48 PM
Jeff W

Clearly MTB ran well in Canada.  The Breeders Cup was a throw out because he apparently never settled in in CA.  As for the two starts in NM, the Sunland Derby was a 800k race and he was only 4 lengths out.  His jock made a move down the backstretch and MTB couldn't sustain through the stretch.  Woolley mentioned that and wanted to make that move later.  Hindsight is always 20/20, certainly I did not pick him, there is some evidence to back up his performance.

06 May 2009 9:59 PM
MVP in NYS

Despite all the nasty comments about the trainer and his trailer - it was a 4 horse trailer...He and one of the owners showed great sportsmanship to distribute roses from the blanket the next day.

Funny how the 'Bird' slipped in under every ones' noses....No publicity- no stories about his stakes wins!

Blood Horse needs to cover each and every Derby Contender next year.

07 May 2009 8:58 AM
John Boudreau

Congrats Shifty (thats his nickname in New Mexico)>>>After Watching the replays of MTB's 2 year old year He's one Tough little Dude!!! He won 4 in a row and 3 stakes in a row>> twice in the one hole with semi-rough trips I'm Becoming a Big Believer>>> Good Luck Shifty!!!

07 May 2009 3:12 PM
L.Muchesi

I know Mine That Bird from his days as a 2 year old winning races at Woodbine.He was Canada's 2 year old champ.

Even though the horse is no slouch I feel he won the Derby because he loved the off track while the other horses didn't. Simple as that.There are horses who love off tracks all the time and seem like champs but not in the true sense.

He is the Derby champ but I am sure he will not win the Preakness (or Belmont if he decides to run).

07 May 2009 3:56 PM
Backside Babe

To Central Valley Dame---Chip Woolley, a damn good trainer.  He could not train a billy goat to buck.  If he could, MTB would have blown the rest away in New Mexico.  Ask around, the Double Eagle entourage is the biggest joke going in New Mexico racing.

07 May 2009 4:01 PM
John Boudreau

To Backside BABY>>> They WON the Kentucky Derby

07 May 2009 5:25 PM
kleigha555

He is the real deal, I wathced his workout videos before the derby.  He moves easy and cofident and when asked to go - he tore up the track. I am so tired of all the negative comments (not here) saying it opened like the red sea and these horses were no good....and on and on.  Actually this was a very talented field and horses that were bred to be "classic" horses, and havce won previous races in great runs.  He is bred for this!!  He is a young three yr old and may be maturing and coming in to his own when it really matters.  I say WIN that triple crown MTB!!!!!  Show them all!  ALSO you dont have to have a barn full of million dollar horses and owners to be a great horseman and get the job done right!  I am cheering all the way for the Mine that Bird team!!!!

07 May 2009 7:36 PM
Niners13

Bird ran a great race and i know all racehorses turn 2 or 3 on Jan 1, no matter what there bday was, but mine that birds actual b-day in may 10 i think so he was the youngest horse in the field...people will hate but this horse was a champion 2yr in canada and won the derby they will never be take that away from him....

07 May 2009 9:06 PM
backside babe

Settle down---I was just trying to get a reaction with my posts---I actually just met the Double Eagle gang while they have been here in KY----MTB is a champ and the Double Eagle entourage is a great group of guys!  Way to go!  Good luck in the Preakness!

07 May 2009 10:21 PM
Freetex

Mine That Bird was much the best on Derby Day and that's all there is to it.  

I don't recall seeing any other horses flying; oh, only the ones I bet on. All flying for second or third and so on down the lane.

08 May 2009 6:35 PM
Barbara

I agree with you completely, Colette Marie. MTB's race was one for the ages. I'll remember it always, win or lose at the Preakness (but I'd love for him to win!!!)

09 May 2009 6:36 PM
Queen of Fabulosity

To Central Valley Dame:

"Chip Woolley...a damn good trainer"   I think that you need to check Mr. Woolley's winning percentage.  If that is damn good, I would rather be mediocre.

09 May 2009 9:23 PM
Dick Johnson

The overhead shot of the race tells the whole story.  The little horse by Birdstone ran past the field like Grant went through Richmond.  The times only matter to the horses that finished second thru last.  

It goes to show everyone that the "little horse, little trainer and little owner" still have a chance in the Big Race.  It keeps the dream alive!!

09 May 2009 9:38 PM
Johnny

Very nice commentary, Dan. It's been very gratifying for me to see Hal Wiggins, "Chip" Woolley, Jr., and Mine That Bird in the limelight. Both these fine men have shown a lot of class, poise, and humility, not only with their success, but with some of the changes that have occurred over the past week.

Mr. Wiggins has been extremely gracious in spite of losing his star Rachel Alexandra, who gave him his first Grade 1 win. I wish he'd been able to keep the filly, but he's a first class horseman and I hope other really good horses come his way.

Mr. Woolley has been a model of a class act as well, giving a lot of credit to Calvin and wanting people to focus on Mine That Bird. I'll be pulling for the horse in the Preakness.

And thanks again to you, Dan, for another of your very classy commentaries.

10 May 2009 2:42 PM
The King of the Derby

The purpose of the derby is to create a venue for gamblers, owners, trainers and breeders in that order. Without wagering in this country we have no industry. The Gamblers were rewarded as usual, but the outcome of the Derby didn't validate anything. Like in 2005 events lined up and the improbable, the unlikely to happen, happened. And just like 2005 MTB most probably will descend down the ranks. That in itself doesn't invalidate his effort or triumph, but it is what most likely will happen. If Rachel Alexandra Friesan Fire Run those two will most probably run 1, 2 followed by any combination of horses minus Mine That Bird.

11 May 2009 7:31 PM

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