Mine That Bird shocks Derby at 51-1

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. was running a horse in the Kentucky Derby for the first time, and he wasn't going to let a little thing like a broken leg keep him from making the walk over from the barn area before the race. He came over alongside a 51-1 shot, largely ignored by the raucous crowd along the outside rail. But minutes later Woolley became, improbably, a Derby winner.

Woolley's horse, Mine That Bird - the only gelding in the race - rallied from last to first in the 19-horse field under jockey Calvin Borel and scored a runaway victory in the 135th Kentucky Derby before an announced crowd of 153,563 on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

He returned $103.20, the second-highest price in Derby history. Only Donerail ($184.90) in 1913 was a bigger upset.

Mine That Bird took the lead inside the furlong pole and quickly opened up on his opposition, winning by 6 3/4 lengths. Pioneerof the Nile finished second, outdueling third-place Musket Man and fourth-place Papa Clem in a three-way battle for second.

Chocolate Candy was fifth and was followed, in order, by Summer Bird, Join in the Dance, Regal Ransom, West Side Bernie, General Quarters, Dunkirk, Hold Me Back, Advice, Desert Party, Mr. Hot Stuff, Atomic Rain, Nowhere to Hide, Friesan Fire, and Flying Private.

Mine That Bird completed 1¼ miles on the sloppy main track in 2:02.66.

It was the end of an improbable journey. Mine That Bird, purchased as a yearling for $9,500, began his career on a synthetic surface at Woodbine in Canada, where he won four starts last year at age 2 for trainer David Cotey. He was voted Canada's champion 2-year-old male of last year.

Mine That Bird then was sent to California last fall for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and turned over to Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, but he finished last in the 12-horse field.

After being privately purchased, Mine That Bird was turned over to Woolley. He ran Mine That Bird twice this spring at Sunland Park. He was second in the Borderland Derby, then was fourth in the Sunland Derby, ungraded races that heretofore had not exactly been key Derby preps.

The last part of the journey involved Woolley bringing Mine That Bird from New Mexico to Kentucky by van, a 21-hour journey that included an overnight stop near Dallas. Woolley had won with 1 of 32 starters this year before Saturday.

"I can't say enough. This is a feeling like I've never had before," Woolley said.

Mine That Bird is owned by the Double Eagle Farm of Mark Allen and the Buena Suerte Equine operation of Dr. Leonard Blach, a veterinarian. They earned $1,417,200 from a gross purse of $2,177,200.

Borel was winning the Derby for the second time. He also won with Street Sense in 2007. Borel gave Mine That Bird an almost identical ride, dropping back to last and then hugging the rail.

"I just took him back, rode a Street Sense race," Borel said. "I knew at the three-eighths, if I got through, Katie bar the door."

Borel also won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday with Rachel Alexandra. He became the seventh jockey to win both of Churchill Downs's signature races in the same year.

"I love you, Mom and Daddy," Borel, crying, said to NBC's Donna Barton Brothers after the race. "Unbelievable. It's been a long, hard road, but it's paying off."

Mine That Bird will move on to the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, on May 16. Should he prevail there, he will head to the June 6 Belmont Stakes and attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The current Triple Crown drought is the longest since Sir Barton won the first Triple Crown in 1919.

The complexion of the Derby changed dramatically on Saturday morning, when Wood Memorial winner I Want Revenge, the Derby morning-line favorite, was scratched. His trainer, Jeff Mullins, said I Want Revenge had swelling in his left front ankle.

His withdrawal completed a week of last-minute defections. On Monday, Quality Road, the Florida Derby winner and, at the time, the Derby favorite, was withdrawn. On Tuesday, Square Eddie came out. And then on Wednesday, Win Willy was diagnosed with the beginning of a fracture, so he was not entered in the race.

Nineteen broke from the gate on cloudy but otherwise pleasant day. It had rained overnight, and the wet weather, combined with the lack of sun and an absence of wind, left the track listed as sloppy from the first race, at 10:30 a.m. Eastern, right up to the Derby, eight hours later.

Mine That Bird, breaking from post 8, was bumped solidly at the start by Join in the Dance, who veered in sharply and then set off at a rapid clip. Join in the Dance set fractions of 22.98 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.23 for a half-mile. Mine That Bird was last early. Dunkirk also got off poorly, stumbling at the start.

Friesan Fire, the 7-2 favorite, got shuffled back in traffic early to lose position, then was taken wide and ended up caught on the far outside entering the final turn in a dreadful trip.

As the field neared the far turn, Pioneerof the Nile ranged up outside Join in the Dance and Regal Ransom to challenge for the lead. Mine That Bird, after staying on the rail for nearly a mile, came knifing between horses at the quarter pole. Borel then dived to the inside, and squeezed through a tiny opening between Join in the Dance and the rail.

Woolley on NBC's telecast was asked about how little anyone knew of him or his horse before the race.

"They know me now," he said.

- additional reporting by Byron King and Marty McGee


Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 2