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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.


tvnewsbadge said...

You'll really love this. I've just been checking out the replay on YouTube and it looks like the track announcer had a "foolish pleasure" moment.
He didn't even see Mind The Bird take charge and by the time he caught on, the horse had already won the race.
And I certainly agree about Chip Woolley. I lost all respect for the General Quarters camp when I learned that they were so small minded as to not give credit where credit was due.
Over all, a good race, but it's too bad that both NBC and ESPN didn't bother to mention Stormalory
when they did their racetrack safety segments. I think that REALLY sucked.

SaratogaSpa said...

Great story, reminds me of another gelding and his connections-Funny Cide and the The Sackatoga Stable Gang.

Jamie said...

Blood-Horse reported the whole McCarthy absentee training story a long time ago. It's not the GQ camp's fault how the media cuts out bits of interviews and chooses to show only what they want. The story is out there, it's just how reporters cut and paste the story to make headlines. There was never a point where McCarthy was taking full credit.
I agree with your take on the Mine That Bird camp, and look forward to hearing more of their story. I was there in person and am still shocked by what happened. I had my camera locked on Pioneer in the stretch, but then I saw Bird pulling away and had to do the same double-take as Durkin!

su-ann said...

Wonderful Post.

Well, often people geld colts to keep their mind on the job, and his certainly was today!

Anonymous said...

I agree -- it was a great race and I was speechless too. I completely didn't see anything in Mine That Bird's history (except the fact that he was sired by Birdstone) to indicate he had a chance of winning. I loved Borel's reaction to his second Derby win, and Woolley's giving credit to the Canadian trainer. MTB passed those horses as if they were walking!

As tvnewsbadge said, track announcer Tom Durkin (my favorite track announcer) not only didn't see Mine That Bird coming, he initially didn't appear to know who he was when he surged in front.

The ESPN announcers had been saying all day that the rail was fast, but I think that only partly explains Mine That Bird's dominating performance. The rest of it was the horse himself.


tvnewsbadge said...

Actually, I don't think it's entirely fair to blame the media for the Mark Miller "oversight".
Tom McCarthy was given a perfect opportunity on live unedited national television today to pass around a little well deserved credit and didn't do it.
And by the way, did I miss him or was the Governor of Kentucky not there?
Anyway, the more I think about it, this was the perfect outcome. A horse without baggage and "connections" you can respect (as far as we know) winning the most important horse race in North America.

And not JUST winning, but doing so in such a dramatic fashion.

The Turk said...

Valerie, good writing as always, and as usual, I agree with your insights almost completly. I too was quite impressed by Trainer Woolley giving credit to an assistant trainer and another trainer on live TV.

Mrs. Turk was a bigger fan of Summer Bird as well, and I have a bit of affinity for "The Bird" and his Belmont ability, but not in all my handicapping years would I have expected what we saw unfold so in the span of 2:02 and change.

I felt bad for Durkin after the race. That's a tough job of keeping track of 19 muddy riders, and I think he just assumed as I did that Pioneerof The Nile was taking charge. Mine That Bird wasn't on his radar and was hard to pick up the way he weaved through traffic.

It was good for racing, and what's good for racing is what's good for me!

Gina Spadafori said...

Great post, Valerie. And after last year's sleaziness with Big Brown, his crappy feet and his greedy dopehead connections, what a great change of pace.

Yay, Calvin Bo-Rail and a good gelding who had a great day.

Redbean said...

This horse wasn't anywhere on my radar. Even after the race I couldn't see anything that would have made me bet on him, except for Borel. I really didn't even remember hearing his name, I had to go straight back to look at the form. What a great race! I can't wait to see him run again.

I hope Friesan Fire (my pick) heals up quickly and gets back to racing and winning!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post Valerie. I thought the overhead shot showed really how impressive Mine That Bird was and how quickly he was moving. This isn't just some late runner who picked up the pieces. He was flying to the finish. Hope this good story continues!

Keith - TripleDeadHeat said...

As predicted at Triple Dead Heat, the Kentucky Derby was won by Mine That Bird...

If only.

Those of us at Woodbine are as shocked an everyone else. No one saw this coming.

Even if I throw out the weak speed ratings the starts this year were not impressive. Ah well, let's hope he wins the Preakness as well!

ncarolinafran said...

Does anyone have any idea what Mine That Bird's speed was coming down the homestretch? The whole race might not be a record time, but I do believe his homestretch has to be a record!

Valerie said...

Alan over at Left at the Gate is reporting Mine That Bird's last fractions were 24.11 and 24 seconds flat, as compared to Big Brown's 25.26 last year. On a fast track (and in record time), Secretariat's last fractions were 24.4 and 23.2...but, again, that was on a fast track.