(Above photo: Mine That Bird in the Paddock at Churchill Downs Racetrack)
Some Kentucky Derby races you just don't forget. Some races are so inexplicable, so confounding, so...stunning, that they will be etched in Derby history forever as one of those Derbys.
It was 2009 and heavy rain turned the dirt track to slop. The betting favorite, I Want Revenge, was scratched the morning of the race, leaving Dunkirk, Friesan Fire and Pioneerof The Nile as the most likely to slug it out at the finish line. As the nineteen horses left the gate and headed into the first turn, a diminutive, and little regarded outsider named Mine That Bird was squeezed into last place where he looked hopelessly overmatched.
The horse had vanned in from distant New Mexico, driven by his trainer Chip Woolley, who had the added discomfort of a broken leg from a recent motorcycle accident. Woolley, along with owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leanord Blach, skipped an easier spot in the Lone Star Derby because, well, this might be the only chance to compete in the fabled Kentucky Derby. With the race nearly over, it appeared to be a wasted trip.
But if 146 years has taught us anything, it's that astonishing, even spectacular things can happen on the first Saturday in May. Jockey Calvin Borel, a longtime fan favorite at Churchill Downs, guided Mine That Bird towards the inner rail to save ground, continuing to track the entire field. Going into the final turn, Borel stepped on the proverbial gas pedal and the 50-1 longshot responded as if he were shot out of a cannon. He passed every horse in the final quarter mile, finishing nearly seven lengths ahead of Pioneerof The Nile.
Mine That Bird had a respectable career following the Derby, but never replicated that incredible performance. Still, the horse had impeccable timing, turning in the performance of his life, when the eyes of the world are on Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.