LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Calvin Borel was in a familiar place, along the rail and urging Canadian champion Mine That Bird to fly through the mud. Trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. was someplace he never imagined — the Kentucky Derby, with his horse in the lead.
Together they pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the Derby’s 135 year history.
“It was a Street Sense move,” Borel said Saturday, referring to the same rail-hugging ride he gave that colt to win the Derby two years ago. “They can only go so fast, so far. When I hollered at him, he just went on.”
Sent off at 50-1 odds, Mine That Bird pulled away in the stretch to score a 6 3/4-length victory at Churchill Downs, the second-biggest upset in Derby history.
Mine That Bird, the son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, was well-known in Canada, winning last year’s Sovereign Award as the top two-year-old in the country after capturing three stakes. But the three-year-old colt, co-bred by Toronto’s Peter Lamantia, wasn’t given much of a shot at winning the first jewel of the U.S. thoroughbred triple crown.
The gelding ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.66 and paid US$103.20 to win.
“I am so happy for him,” said Toronto native Dave Cotey, Mine That Bird’s former owner and trainer. “I’m ecstatic. I’d love to be down there to give him a big kiss.”
Mine That Bird is only the third horse of Canadian pedigree to win the Derby. The legendary Northern Dancer won it in 1964, and Sunny’s Halo wore the roses in 1983.
Cotey, who originally purchased Mine That Bird for $9,500, watched the Derby from Woodbine Racetrack.
“When I saw him closing on the rail, I yelled, ‘Here he comes!”’ said Cotey, who later sold the horse to a New Mexico-based ranch. “I almost lost my voice. I’m just so happy for him and his connections.
“We did well with him. He always brought his A-game to the races. He was a nice horse to be around and work with.”
Pioneer of the Nile finished second for freshly minted Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, a three-time Derby winner. Musket Man was another nose back in third, followed by Papa Clem, who was sired by Canadian-bred Smart Strike.
Friesan Fire, the 7-2 wagering favourite of 153,563 fans, was 18th in the 19-horse field.
Earlier, I Want Revenge became the first morning-line favourite to be scratched on Derby Day after inflammation was detected in the colt’s left front ankle. The injury wasn’t believed to be career-threatening but worrisome enough to prompt trainer Jeff Mullins and owner David Lanzman to withdraw.
Mine That Bird got squeezed coming out of the starting gate, but Borel took a firm hold and wrestled the horse to the rail while they were in last place.
They stayed there the entire race, moving up to 12th after a mile, except for a key late move around a horse in their path. Borel found an opening in the stretch and shot the gelding through a tight spot inside of two other horses.
“I had enough room,” Borel said. “He’s a small horse.”
Once free, Mine That Bird quickly accelerated toward an improbable victory.