So, when the interviews are done and night spreads over Churchill Downs and all that remains to be done at Churchill Downs is cleaning tons of trash off the ground, does one’s life really change after winning the world’s most famous race?
You bet it does, according to Dr. Leonard Blach, co-owner of 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Mine That Bird, who will contest the June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) after a runner-up effort to Rachel Alexandra in the BlackBerry Preakness Stakes (gr. I). The rather anonymous veterinarian with a clinic at his Buena Suerte Equine farm near Roswell, N.M., is a bit less anonymous today than he was a month ago.
“Life has sure changed, all right,” Blach, 74, said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s been an unbelievable ride we’ve been on. I don’t know that I have a lot more friends, but I’ve had a lot of friends come out of the cracks who I haven’t seen or heard from for years, going all the way back to college days. Everybody has been real congratulatory.”
Mine That Bird figures to have a profound effect on New Mexico racing, having come out of the Sunland Park Derby, a race that local horsemen have fought to achieve graded status for in recent years. With Mind That Bird’s huge victory in Louisville, and Advice taking the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) coming out of the same contest, Sunland’s signature race certainly looks to be in line for an upgrade. It’s no wonder that the region has embraced Mine That Bird, whom Blach co-owns with Mark Allen.
“The community of Roswell has been supportive, as has the entire state of New Mexico,” Blach noted. “It’s almost like he’s become America’s Horse.”
When a horse wins at odds of 50-1, there are likely to be some non-believers in the crowd. However, Mine That Bird’s effort in the Preakness may have done more to erase any perception of him being a fluke than his Derby victory.
“I think any horseman who evaluated the Derby knew he wasn’t a fluke,” Blach said. “He ran against a bunch of really nice horses. None of them fell down or got into traps where they had excuses. It was a truly-run race and he is a true racehorse. Now, maybe people thought his owners and trainer were flukes and they associated the horse with the people,” Blach said, laughing.
“But they know he’s for real now. At the Preakness, Mark (Allen) and I were just as happy as at the Derby...well, maybe not quite as happy, but we were pleased to run second to that filly. We were overjoyed; not disappointed. Naturally, we’d like to have won the race, but that’s just horse racing. But to run second was a tremendous boost to us.”
Mine That Bird figures to give a boost to one of the two Thoroughbred stallions Blach stands at Buena Suerte, which means “good luck” in Spanish. So Long Birdie is a half-brother to Birdstone , the latter of whom is the sire of the Kentucky Derby winner.
“Well, a few mares came in for him, but it’s late in the season and we already had a pretty fair book to him,” said Blach. “His first crop are 2-year-olds now, and the ones we’ve kept are looking good. We’re bringing them along now, and we’ll be starting with them at the racetrack a little later in the season.”
Blach arrived in New York a week before the Belmont Stakes to help trainer Chip Woolley out a bit, and to attend the many functions that are part of Belmont week. He said he’s been to the Big Town for Breeders’ Cup events in the past, but this will be his first Belmont Stakes.
“It’s going to be tough,” Blach said of the race. “(Nick) Zito has some fresh horses, and it’s no easy thing to win this, but we entered to win, and I think we’ll do well. Chip has told us right along the horse is doing as good or better as before the Derby. He’s still on his peak and feeling good. We haven’t had a bit of problems yet, so I think we’re settin’ pretty good here.
“When we finish with these races, we’ll be proud of what we’ve done no matter where we run Saturday.”
And he’ll have a few more friends to talk about it all with.