Each year the first Saturday in May rolls around….and the casual horseracing fan in all of us takes over. It is much like the Indianapolis 500, or Wimbledon.  You may not follow the sport at all, but one week out of the year you tune in.  You watch.  You might even host or go to a “Derby party” Heck many of you might even head to your local track or simulcast racing establishment and throw a couple of bucks on your lucky number.

That is probably the only way you had the #8 horse in the Eleventh Race at Churchill Downs this past Saturday.

Mine That Bird, a 50-1 long shot came from seemingly Paducah down the stretch to go from 15th to 1st to win by a number of lengths under a great ride by Jockey Calvin Borel.  Borel coincidentally became just the seventh jockey to win both the Kentucky Oaks, which is run on Friday, and then pull off the double header with the Derby winner on Saturday.  This alone is no small feat. There are great story lines all over the place here.  A virtual unknown horse.  Trained in New Mexico, which I don’t think anyone would argue is exactly the bastion of thoroughbred racing in this country.  Originally purchased for a mere nine thousand and five hundred dollars as a yearling and racing against horses that sold for multiple millions with proven bloodlines and high hopes.

The Bird is the Word!

Normally NBC does a magnificent job of broadcasting the Kentucky Derby. It is one of their marquee events of the year.  But this year, a lot did not go to script.

First off, heavy rains inundated the area.  This made for in racing language what is referred to as an off track.  Of course Churchill Downs is one of the best facilities in the world, so it was described as a fast wet track…aka – a nice way to say it is muddy and sloppy.

Secondly, no one saw this winner coming. Even the Great Tom Durkin, who calls many of the most prominent races on television seemed to be out of sorts as the Bird flew by a multitude of also rans along the rail.  It took a few seconds, well after Borel had grabbed the lead for good that Durkin announced he had hit the front of the field.

And finally, immediately after the race it was evident to me that NBC was scrambling to get some more coverage of the owner and trainer for this horse.  Normally the television crew is strategically positioned to keep an eye on the reactions of the owners and trainers in the stands.  Capturing all of their glee or agony as their horse is flying home down the stretch.

No Cameras seemed to be following trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley.

The very long winded interview with Jockey Calvin Borel on the back stretch is a normal part of the coverage, but then after that there was a good couple of minutes of open mic coverage with the outrider and Borel yelling and pointing and celebrating with the crowd.  Talk about your can’t miss television.  No doubt Borel is an animated guy and the thrill of the moment was fun to watch.  But 30 seconds of this would have sufficed…But it did allow for NBC to get their folks in place to ask a bunch of stupid questions.

The brilliant line of questioning once again reported to Woolley that he had travelled all the way from New Mexico.  Via of all things….a motorized vehicle and not an airplane…in order to bring the horse to the race. Although you have all heard it by now, Woolley was on crutches, yet took the time to walk his horse out of the barn to the paddock complete with crutches and all in the muddy conditions.  “How long did it take to get here again Chip?”  ” How many miles is it to Churchill Downs”  Why ask the trainer? NBC had already mentioned these facts about ten times in the telecast.  Much to the guffaw of many at my household Woolley responded beautifully with something along the lines of “Maybe you guys will talk about something else now other than how far of a drive it was”

In the end, a brilliant and thrilling ride by a great Jockey, a great storyline on many fronts, and for the betting public out there, a smooth $103 to win ticket.  To all of you “experts” that did not see this one coming….

I guess they all got the bird.

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Johnny Goodman writes a weekly sports column for The Soap Boxers. His articles can be found in The Goodman File.

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