Brave, tough, and able to go the distance. These words describe those in the US Armed Forces that we at Remount Foundation have the honor of serving.
They also describe our mascot, Mine That Bird. This horse won the 2009 Kentucky Derby as the second longest shot in the history of the race.
His journey was not that of the typical Derby Thoroughbred.
Back in 2009, the “Bird” was a scrappy, little gelding from New Mexico that squeaked into qualifying for the race. His co-owners, Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach, initially declined the request from Churchill Downs to Run for the Roses®. However, after further debate, Allen and Blach could not deny the Bird this opportunity, no matter the insurmountable odds of placing or virtually impossible chance of victory. He had earned his way into the starting gates, so that’s where they decided he should be.,
Most Derby starters roll in to Louisville in luxury horse transports the size of household moving rigs. Some descend aboard jets configured with first-class stalls. Mine That Bird wouldn’t have gotten a seat in the back of the plane.
Trainer Chip Woolley and groom Charlie Figoroa loaded the Bird in Woolley's no-frills trailer and hitched it to a pickup truck. The two men then drove the Bird to a world famous event for a performance they anticipated might be nothing short of embarrassing.
After the grueling 1,200 mile, 21-hour drive, with a brief overnight stop in Texas, the relatively unknown gelding and entourage arrived with little notice to a week of dismal weather and equally depressing media coverage or lack thereof.
News outlets were not interested in the last-minute add to the post. The hook was much more about how Woolley, a Stetson-wearing cowboy on crutches, drove his own horse to the race. The Bird and his entourage were reduced to a quirky, “also-running” story. At post-time, that coverage seemed appropriate.
Race day dawned and it was a mess. An overnight downpour had left the track sloppy at best and that term was kind.
Jockey Calvin Borel was determined to make the best of it, but Mine That Bird had trouble out of the gate. The Bird was squeezed from both sides and closed out so far back he wasn’t even visible in the picture on television. He started some eight lengths behind the rest of the field. An eternity.
Remount Executive Director, Billy Jack Barrett recalls watching the race, “I thought Calvin should be carrying a sack lunch or at least a flashlight so he could find his way back to the barn after dark. Calvin could not have thrown a rock and hit the horse in front of him!”
Borel, however, had a ground game. He was masterful at rail-skimming, a technique that had won him the 2007 Derby on a mount called Street Sense. Now, he used it again.
The jockey charged past horse after horse, moving into contention at the turn for home. Rounding the bend, he shot past two on the inside so fast, the race announcer didn’t see him until he was already three lengths in the lead.
And then the miracle.
Mine That Bird went from the back of the field to 6¾ lengths ahead. Stunned spectators and the announcer were drop-jawed, as the 50-1 long-shot crushed the 2009 Kentucky Derby. In 2 minutes, 2.66 seconds, Mine That Bird flew to the finish, winning by the longest margin of victory in over 60 years.
YouTube Video: Flashback of the 135th Kentucky Derby
The smashing upset caught the attention of movie producer Jim Wilson. His film “50 to 1”, is based on the true story of Mine That Bird.
YouTube Video: Watch the “50 to 1” Movie Trailer
With the theatrical release of “50 to 1”, CINEMARK Theaters in Colorado Springs announced they would donate the proceeds from the opening night to Remount Foundation. Mark Allen and Dr. Blach brought Mine That Bird to Colorado Springs to promote the movie and Remount.
After promotional appearances at the theater and the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame, Mine That Bird traveled to the US Air Force Academy Equestrian Center, the home of Remount Foundation. The happy horse finished his visit by strutting across the field during a home football game at USAFA’s Falcon Stadium.
Today, Mine That Bird lives the retirement life at the Double Eagle Ranch outside Roswell, New Mexico. His multiple, spacious paddocks are just yards away from the homes of his co-owners, the Allens and the Blachs. The Bird enjoys the groups of visitors he receives each week at the ranch, especially those that offer him ranch-provided peppermints.
The Remount Foundation team thanks Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach for their patriotic support in allowing Mine That Bird to be our official mascot.
Social Media: Mine That Bird on Facebook
KentuckyDerby.com: History of Mine That Bird
MN Star Tribune: Bird is the Word at the Derby
Wikipedia: Mine That Bird's Wiki Page
The movie “50 to 1” is rated PG-13 and available to rent online from iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies, and YouTube.