Judy Needham had to do the walk. Co-breeder of longshot, Mine That Bird, Needham wouldn’t miss the Kentucky Derby walk.
Mud on your shoes is worth it.
“You know we bred one of them in here,” Needham said, as she took refuge on the packed dirt near the rail at the seven-furlong chute. She needed to drop the reminder. Being the breeder of 50-1 Mine That Bird wasn’t something that made the 6 o’clock news.
Nineteen of this year’s 3-year-old crop – the last 19 standing – congregated at the opening of the chute as minutes ticked down before the 135th Kentucky Derby. Like parents, all breeders, love their product and there were only 19 breeders to raise runners in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Needham bred one of the most obscure, off-the-wall horses in the field. Forget below-the-radar, he didn’t make the screen.
“Of all the horses, who would have thought this little guy would be the one,” Needham said, as Mine That Bird, stepped in the shadow of the giants of the sport. Pioneerof The Nile stood off by himself farther up the racetrack. The WinStar trio of Mr. Hot Stuff, Hold Me Back and Advice oozed confidence and class. Favorite Friesan Fire strutted. Chocolate Candy looked primed and ready. The Godolphin pair of Desert Party and Regal Ransom showed what billions buy. One after another, like a gold-medal marching band, and then there was Mine That Bird.
I’d be lying if I said I took a bunch of notes about Mine That Bird on the walk before the Derby or any time during Derby Week. He wasn’t an after-thought, he wasn’t a thought at all.
My first reaction when I saw him earlier in the week? Big saddle towel. The yellow derby towel looked longer than the horse, that’s what I thought. He looked like Dorothy when the house fell on her. I felt sorry for the horse, even uttered out loud, “Look at this poor thing.”
The gelded son of Birdstone won four straight at Woodbine last year. Purchased for $400,000 by Double Eagle Farm and Buena Suerte Equine, he lost three straight, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and then a second and a fourth at Sunland Park. A second and a fourth at Sunland Park.
Trainer Chip Woolley vanned him from New Mexico to Louisville, with a layover at Lone Star Park and then it was onto the Derby. Mine That Bird breezed five furlongs at Churchill Downs earlier in the week and trained like 90 percent of the horses at Churchill Downs. In utter obscurity.
Then Calvin Borel hops on him in the Derby, drops his hands like he’s surrendering and the horse plummets to last, five lengths off the last horse going around the clubhouse turn. As they turn for home, Pioneerof The Nile had answered the question of whether he could handle the track, Garrett Gomez still had his foot on the brake as the others retreated. Then the blur appeared on the rail. Borel went around one horse and was long gone, taking the roses from Pioneerof The Nile, Musket Man and Papa Clem.
“I always said this horse needed to sit back and make one short run. Calvin did a super job, everything fell together, we were really lucky to get through there,” Woolley said. “I didn’t have any real feeling that I could win the Derby . . . but this was about a horse race . . .”
Give Borel a horse race and look out. Sometimes you ride for fourth money and you get all the money.
“I rode him like a good horse, when I worked him the other day, he galloped out in 15 and that’s not bad. He’s such a small horse, he skips over the track,” Borel said. “I got bumped around, then got shuffled, the best thing to do is sit chilly, I rode him kind of like Street Sense. It’s not the first quarter that matters, it’s the last. You gotta ride them to win and that’s what I do best.”
On to Pimlico.