Mine That Bird poses for fans with Kentucky Derby Museum Equine Manager Alison Knight.
In 2009, a small gelding caught the attention of the press when he arrived at Churchill Downs in a trailer driven by his injured trainer.
Named Mine That Bird, the gelding had flown under the radar before arriving at Churchill Downs. While he had been named champion 2-year-old male in Canada the year before, he had subsequently been sold and moved to an American trainer, during which time Mine That Bird hadn’t shown enough to be considered a real Kentucky Derby threat.
Mine That Bird entered the Kentucky Derby on a three-race losing streak, so it was no surprise to see him go off at 50.60-1 odds as the horses loaded into the gate. Mine That Bird hung in the back of the field for most of the race but as they moved into the final turn, Calvin Borel found a gap against the rail and let Mine That Bird go.
Squeezing through the rail to take the lead in the stretch, Mine That Bird’s rally under Borel was so surprising that they were well in front by the time they had been identified. Mine That Bird and Borel surged away to win by 6 ¾ lengths for Borel’s second Derby victory in three years.
Plenty of history was written with the upset win as trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr. became the fifth trainer since 2002 to win the Kentucky for the first time while Mine That Bird was the first Canadian champion 2-year-old to win the race since Sunny’s Halo in 1982 and the first Canadian champion 2-year-old to run in the race since 1994.
Mine That Bird was loaded back up into Woolley’s trailer for the trip to Baltimore, where he met up with another big winner in Rachel Alexandra. Unlike Mine That Bird, who had been the longest shot in the Kentucky Derby field, Rachel Alexandra had went off as a big favorite in the Kentucky Oaks and won the race by 20 ¼ lengths.
Mine That Bird was ridden by Mike Smith in the Preakness after Borel moved over to the filly in yet another storyline that added to the intrigue of that year’s Triple Crown. Mine That Bird bested the males but Rachel Alexandra became the first filly since 1924 to win the race with Mine That Bird a length back in second.
Even though his Triple Crown hopes were over, Mine That Bird continued on to the third race in the series, the Belmont Stakes. The longest race in the series, most horses struggle to get the 1 ½ miles, especially after a grueling Triple Crown campaign.
But Mine That Bird’s pedigree suggested that he should like the distance. By 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone and out of a mare by Smart Strike, a sire whose full sister had won the Canadian Triple Crown, Mine That Bird was bred to love the long route.
Borel was back aboard Mine That Bird for the Belmont and the pair went off as the favorite. Mine That Bird was in the front for multiple calls in the race, but he wasn’t meant to win two legs of the Triple Crown. Instead, it was another son of Birdstone who won the Belmont, a chestnut named Summer Bird.
"He might have been a hair higher today coming in here, just a little more amped up, but overall he was the same horse I led up in the Derby,” Woolley told ESPN. “He ran a great race and just got beat, and you have to accept that and go on. He was tired. He was used, but he looked all right. We're a little down, disappointed right now. He ran a great race. It's been a lot of fun. We'll give him a good eight weeks off and let him freshen up."
Two months after the Belmont, Mine That Bird returned to the races with Mike Smith aboard for the West Virginia Derby. He raced closer to the pace in third and finished up in that position as well. The third would be his final on-the-board finish.
After a prep race in California, Mine That Bird entered the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Again, he was bested by one of the great females of the decade in Zenyatta when he finished ninth.
Mine That Bird spent an extended break at the farm of one of his owners and was preparing to head back to Woolley in May 2010 when the decision was made to switch him to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
SLIDESHOW: MINE THAT BIRD
Mine That Bird returned to the races on the Fourth of July in the Firecracker Handicap for his first attempt on turf. None of the switches made seemed to help the gelding as he finished eighth as the 2.80-to-1 favorite in his return. Mine That Bird returned to the dirt in his last three starts but never could finish better than fifth, retiring after a 10th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
“We don’t want to hurt him or disgrace him anymore,” co-owner Leonard Blach told the Daily Racing Form. “He’ll live out his days here at Double Eagle [Ranch]. We’ve got a special paddock and shed for him.”
While Mine That Bird was living the highlife at o-owner Mark Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch, a movie was in the works about his life. The movie, 50-1, used Mine That Bird for a few of the scenes and ironically, wrapped up post-production work only a few weeks before the fourth anniversary of Mine That Bird’s win.
The fourth anniversary of Mine That Bird’s Derby win also brought another treat for fans as the gelding moved to the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs for track’s spring meet. It was a move that had been in the works since he had won the Kentucky Derby.
“We started discussions [about having him] at the Museum early on and eventually they were willing to let him come see us,” said Wendy Treinen, the Kentucky Derby Museum’s director of communications.
Treated as a pet when on his owner’s farm, Mine That Bird has sucked up the attention that he has received from fans at the museum. While some fans had gone to visit him in New Mexico, the attention he has received in his few months at the museum has far surpassed that.
Mine That Bird’s stay at the Museum also gave both the museum and fans another boost when 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide came to parade with Mine That Bird the day before the 2013 Kentucky Oaks.
Funny Cide, the first gelding to win the Kentucky Derby since 1929, was trailered to Churchill Downs from the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., while Mine That Bird made the walk from the museum paddock. where he is the first Kentucky Derby winner to reside.
“We had both of them in the stalls, which was really cool,” Treinen said. “Two Derby winners at once was a really great opportunity.”
While Mine That Bird didn’t get a chance to return to the track that day, he does get to visit the dirt where he won his most important race three days a week. But unlike when he was there training for the Kentucky Derby, these days he doesn’t have a rider on his back during his visits. He is led around by a rider on another horse (otherwise known as being “ponied”) in the mornings, following a close schedule to the one he was accustomed to on the track.
It has not been decided if Mine That Bird will return to the Kentucky Derby Museum in the future. However, it is something the museum pursuing with his owners.
“We certainly hope [Mine That Bird will return], we have a great relationship with the owners. They’ve been wonderful and really supportive, but this is their lifetime achievement,” Treinen said. “They are really close to him, too. This is their pet and their favorite lifetime moment so we hope to share him back and forth.”
Mine That Bird can be seen by fans at the museum until the end of Churchill Downs’ spring meet.
CELEBRATING KENTUCVKY DERBY WINNING GELDINGS