The Morning After: Basking in the Derby Glow
On a cool, wet May 3 morning in the barn area of Churchill Downs, the owners and trainer of Mine That Bird were basking in the limelight while still trying to absorb what had transpired the previous day when the 3-year-old gelding posted a stunning 6 3/4-length victory over Pioneerof the Nile in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Meanwhile, the connections of the horses that finished behind Mine That Bird were also still trying to absorb what happened, with few, if any, making firm plans for the May 16 Preakness (gr. I) at Baltimore.
While trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr., owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach, and jockey Calvin Borel were interviewed live on NBC’s “Today Show”, the stable star, who won the Derby at 50-1 odds, grazed peacefully outside Barn 42 as racing fans and media filmed video and took photographs.
“It’s hard to believe we come in here and actually won this thing,” said Woolley, wearing his trademarked black cowboy hat and leaning on the crutches that support his weight as a result of a broken leg sustained in a motorcycle accident. “It’s an exciting time. Right now it’s a little overwhelming… I had dreamed of coming to the Kentucky Derby, for sure. If you don’t, I don’t know what motivation you would have to be in the business. It’s the biggest stage. It may not be the biggest purse, but it’s the biggest stage. That’s the driving force in keeping you coming out here every morning, going through all the headaches and hassles that go along with training horses.”
Woolley, 45, said Mine That Bird came out of the 1 1/4–mile Derby without any problems, but was unwilling to commit to the Preakness which, at 1 3/16 miles, is the shortest of the three classics. The June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) is at 1 1/2 miles. “The horse came out of it super,” said Woolley. “It (the Preakness) wasn’t something that was on our radar, but we will decide today or tomorrow. We were looking to run the horse a little farther anyway. We will just have to see… The Preakness tends to be a little more speed-biased and I don’t know if that is going to fit our horse. There is no obligation (to run in the Preakness). What’s best for the horse has to come first.”
Noting that he did not get much sleep Derby night, Woolley said he has received many calls from old friends, quipping that “none who owed me money called.”
Woolley acknowledged that while the little gelding’s best running style is to be far back early and then make one winning move, he was concerned after Mine That Bird was shuffled back to last at the start of the Derby. “I wasn’t too high on my chances when they passed the grandstand first time and my horse was dead last. But my horse responded… the move he (Borel) made to the inside in the stretch was fantastic. Not many riders would have done that. They would have went around (other horses) instead of going to the inside. I thought he might go off at 100-1. But the horse leaves it on the track every time.”
Woolley reiterated that Mine That Bird, the champion 2-year-old in Canada last year, was purchased privately for $400,000 (with Taylor Made Sales Agent assisting in the transaction) primarily to race in his home base of New Mexico. Mine That Bird has now won five of nine starts and earned $1,791,581. Previous to his Derby win, the gelding had finished second in the Borderland Derby and fourth in the Sunland Derby, both at New Mexico’s Sunland Park.
If co-owner Allen’s comments are any indication, the Preakness is very likely in the plans. “I hate to leave Kentucky, but you bet (would like to run in the Preakness.) If he comes out of this race good, we will (run)… we will let the horse tell us what to do.”
Allen, who said he did not sleep at all Saturday night, said he would have been satisfied with “respectable” performance by Mine That Bird in the Derby and did not expect a victory. “We were coming down here mainly because we were invited and we wanted to experience the Kentucky Derby. We thought we would be sixth or better or maybe hit the board.”
Among other connections of Derby starters, trainer Gary Stute was the only definitely committing to the Preakness with Papa Clem , who finished fourth.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who said he thought runner-up Pioneerof the Nile was going to win when the field reached the quarter pole, was taking a wait-and-see approach on the Preakness, and would make a decision in several days while the colt remains at Churchill Downs.
Meanwhile, Cindy Jones, assistant her trainer-husband Larry Jones, said Friesan Fire , who finished 18th as the Derby favorite, came out of the race with cuts and abrasions on at least three of his four feet and legs. He grabbed a quarter in the left front, had a cut on the tendon in the right front, and a cut on his right rear back foot. He also had some leg webbing, apparently from another horse, embedded in one of his hooves.
While she did not know what Jones or the owners would decide about the Preakness, Cindy Jones said all of the cuts were superficial and would heal quickly.
Here are some other comments from Derby participants, courtesy of Churchill Downs publicity department (finish of the horse is in parentheses):
SUMMER BIRD (6th) – K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman’s Summer Bird was scheduled to ship Monday morning at 5 a.m. to Louisiana Downs, according to trainer Tim Ice. “We have never thought about the Preakness; maybe the Belmont,” Ice said. “I have no interest at all in the Preakness because that track doesn’t suit his style of running.”
HOLD ME BACK (12th) -- Elliott Walden, vice president and racing manger for WinStar Farm, said Sunday that Hold Me Back was fine and would be given a break. Walden wasn’t sure whether the colt would stay with trainer Bill Mott or be sent to the farm during his hiatus. “He’s good,” Walden said. “He scoped good and looks like he came out of it OK. We’re going to regroup and go from there. He’s had a pretty solid six weeks.”
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