LOUISVILLE, KY. - Kentucky Derby horses usually prepare for the race at the nation's historic tracks, in places like Santa Anita and Keeneland and Gulfstream. Few choose a place like New Mexico's Sunland Park.
Fewer still lose at such tracks and go on to win the Derby. Mine That Bird proved Saturday that the nontraditional route can be successful, coming from under the radar to win the race.
Former rodeo cowboy Chip Woolley trained the horse to second- and fourth-place finishes in two stakes races at Sunland Park, but he believed the horse had not shown his true talent.
"We had a rough start to the year,'' said Woolley, who had won one of 26 races before Saturday. "When we didn't win, we kind of waited around, and we finally decided to come [to the Kentucky Derby]. We redeemed ourselves.''
Mine That Bird began his career in Canada and was that nation's champion 2-year-old, with four victories last summer. He was bought for $400,000 by Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach of New Mexico, who never lost faith.
"I really thought this horse had a lot of talent,'' Blach said. "We just weren't able to see it all yet.''Smaller is better in traffic
Calvin Borel is noted for his ability to guide a racehorse through the slimmest of openings along the rail. His skill was key to Mine That Bird's victory, but the horse's small size also helped him navigate to the lead and handle the sloppy track.
"A little bitty horse, you can weave him through the traffic a lot easier than a big horse,'' Borel said. "And he just skipped across the track, where the other horses were digging in."
Borel picked up the mount after Beethoven, a horse he expected to make it to the Derby, was injured in late March. Borel had never seen Mine That Bird before last Monday. The only horse to win the Derby at longer odds was Donerail (91-1) in 1913.Revenge turns sour
I Want Revenge, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, was scratched on Derby morning when inflammation was discovered in his left front ankle. Trainer Jeff Mullins said the horse might have been injured while working over a sloppy track Friday morning.
Mullins said the colt probably won't run in the Preakness Stakes in two weeks.
"Your biggest dream is to get here, but your biggest nightmare is to get to race day and have to scratch,'' he said.Whoa, Canada!
Mine That Bird is the first winner of the Sovereign Award, which goes to Canada's top 2-year-old male, to win a Derby since Sunny's Halo in 1983. Another northern star -- Canada-bred Northern Dancer -- won the 1964 Derby.
The gelding has upsets in his blood. His sire, Birdstone, ruined Smarty Jones' shot at a Triple Crown by winning the 2004 Belmont Stakes.