FARMINGTON — A special guest will roam the grounds at SunRay Park & Casino this weekend when 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird makes an appearance.
Mine That Bird scored one of the biggest upsets in Kentucky Derby history when the 50-1 runner charging from last place and well behind the pack at the half-mile mark to win the 1 1/4-mile race by six and three-quarters lengths.
Mine That Bird will be at the track Saturday and Sunday.
"We're planning to have him in the post parade for a couple of races each day," said Steve Fedunak, the simulcast director at SunRay. "I don't know if we've ever had a Kentucky Derby winner step foot on our track. And I think we might try, if we can and he's up to it, not that he's ill or anything, but I don't know what his temperament is, we'd love to have him in the paddock a little bit to let people get a little close to him than looking down at the track."
Mine That Bird holds a deep connection to New Mexico horse racing and the Four Corners. He was owned by Dr. Leonard Blach of Buena Suerte Equine and Mark Allen of the Double Eagle Ranch, both located in Roswell, and trained by Chip Woolley, who currently resides in Bloomfield when he's not training horses.
More than eight years after the life-changing win at Churchill Downs, Woolley recalls the events of that Saturday afternoon with sharp detail.
"Going out there, I really felt like he could run third or fourth, somewhere in there. The horse I didn't think he could beat was Pioneerof the Nile, who ended running second. We went out there with high hopes and low expectations," Woolley said.
Entering the race, the plan was to hold Mine That Bird back from the pack. Woolley wanted his horse to stay 15 to 20 lengths back from the lead, saying he feared the smaller horse wouldn't be hold up to getting knocked around larger horses in the middle of the pack.
"Originally, we had planned on being back maybe 15, even possibly 20 lengths back, but not 30 to 40 lengths back," Woolley said. "When he went by me, I was right about the 16th pole from the wire, and I thought, 'Oh, my God, we're too far back.' Even in my mind I was thinking no horse could overcome quite that much."
Then, jockey Calvin Borel made his push, closing the gap on the pack by the end of the back stretch and riding the rail through the final turn to rocket past the leaders, leaving NBC Sports announcer Tom Durkin searching for the name of the No. 8 horse that came out of nowhere to win.
"By the time we turned for home, I realized right then that we had a chance to win. Not get a part of it, but to win," Woolley said. "Then, at the eight pole when he got past Pioneerof the Nile, the race was over right there. He was running away from them so fast. I even stopped celebrating for a second to make sure it was him."
The shocking win in the Run for the Roses was the start of an incredible run for the New Mexico-based horse. He went on to place second at the Preakness and third at the Belmont, where Mine That Bird was the 2-1 favorite.
"He was just a really, really good horse," Woolley said, "and he peaked at the right time."
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.