Saturday, May 2, 2009
Once Upon a Time There was a Gelding...
For the first time ever, I can honestly say that Kentucky Derby left me totally, utterly speechless. Gasping in shock even well after Calvin Borel hooted and hollered his way around the track, I still can’t quite wrap my brain around Mine That Bird winning off of his efforts this year. But, you know what? I like him, I like Borel, I like his trainer, I like his owners—this is one result that flabbergasts the handicapper in me, but supremely pleases the horse racing fan that I am. Well done!
I’m disappointed that Larry Jones didn’t win with Friesan Fire, but glad the colt appears to be fine beyond his having part of his left front hoof ripped off. Pioneerof the Nile surprised me—I really didn’t think he could handle the dirt, and I admit I was wrong. The only ticket I did cash was on Musket Man, who got third, and was well past second-place Pioneerof the Nile shortly after the wire. The following trio—Papa Clem, Chocolate Candy and Summer Bird—were all horses I had included in my wagers.
I touted Summer Bird, who didn’t disgrace himself one bit in closing nicely to finish sixth—ahead of all three Pletcher horses, both Godolphin horses and eight others. In retrospect, I still wouldn’t have selected the “other” Birdstone offspring, even with his Smart Strike dam. Yes, he was the Canadian 2-year-old of the year, but running only on Woodbine’s polytrack—no dirt. And then he tanked in the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile, finishing dead last under brief tutelage of Richard Mandella. Switched to Chip Woolley in New Mexico, he hardly took Sunland by storm, but, wow!
Other than Dunkirk and the two Godolphin horses, and Friesan Fire, Mine That Bird had the longest break—just a day short of five weeks—since his last race. And no graded earnings this year! In fact, as one of the last horses to make the Derby field, his only graded earnings came in his narrow (1/2 length) victory in the G3 Grey Stakes at Woodbine last October.
The more I think about it, the more I love this story. A Keeneland yearling purchased for a mere $9,500 who, after a championship 2-year-old campaign in Canada, is sold for $400,000, but fails to impress in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. A 3-year-old everyone has forgotten about, out in the wilds of New Mexico, biding his time as more heralded horses knock heads in the “big” races. A busted up trainer who drives his pickup truck with horse trailer in tow for 21 hours, arriving in the heart of blue-blooded thoroughbred horse racing country, and steals the show. Sounds like a Hallmark Channel movie.
Kudos for trainer Chip Woolley making a point in the winner’s circle interview (and on national television) of giving credit to Dave Cotey for his job training the juvenile Mine That Bird. Unlike General Quarters’ “loveable” (?) retired high school principal owner/trainer (who I was getting awful darn tired of seeing and hearing about on NBC’s telecast), Woolley gave proper credit for a job well-done, something Tom McCarthy should have done when Mark Miller took General Quarters to Florida this summer and made him into the horse he is.
And as for Rachel Alexandra’s prehistoric-thinking breeder/co-owner Dolphus Morrison, who made such a big deal in the Oaks winner’s circle about saying the Triple Crown races should be only a showcase for prospective stallions (and thus not “ruined” by a “jerk” running a filly)...don’t you find it ironic that the ONLY gelding in the field won the Kentucky Derby? Ha, ha!
Now the naysayers will come forward with how all the best horses absent due to injury could have, would have won the Derby if they had been there. How roughly run the race was, and how compromised their favorite horse was. How his low Beyer speed figures make Mine That Bird unworthy or, worse, how suspicious it is that he improved so dramatically. It must be drugs! They cheated! Bullshit.
We witnessed an honest-to-god fairy tale today, and hopefully the story’s not yet over.