Double Eagle Ranch and Bueno Suerte Equine's MINE THAT BIRD (Birdstone), a New Mexico-based gelding who lost his first two starts this year in the Borderland Derby and Sunland Derby, rallied from last to win the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1). And it wasn't even close. The top Kentucky Derby jockey this century, Calvin Borel, got to the rail after the break and stuck -- nobody saves ground better than the Cajun.
Borel knew the inside was best and was in no hurry after being squeezed at the start, and Mine That Bird dropped out of it early on, trailing as much as six lengths behind the next-to-place runner. He entered the far turn with a lot of ground to make up, but the Kentucky-bred kicked it in like he was shot out of a rocket.
Mine That Bird was the only horse to finish strongly, registering a 113 BRIS Late Pace number, and it was really something to see Borel work his magic. He skillfully negotiated Mine That Bird around a rival approaching the top of the stretch and then quickly darted back to the rail, rapidly reeling the leaders in with every stride, but there didn't appear to be any place to go nearing the quarter-pole, with pacesetter JOIN IN THE DANCE (Sky Mesa) racing along the inside. Borel has no fear, though, and squeezed the diminutive Mine That Bird through tight quarters, skimming the rail in classic Borel style.
The race was over in the blink of an eye as Mine That Bird kicked clear, and the Canadian champion earned an outstanding 110 Speed figure for the 6 3/4-length decision. His final time of 2:02.66 is good.
Borel won his second Derby in the last three years, and he finished third in 2008. He captured Friday's Kentucky Oaks (G1) by 20 1/4 lengths with Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia d'Oro). The 42-year-old journeyman was one of the weekend's biggest stars.
There were troubled trips to go around. FRIESAN FIRE (A.P. Indy) grabbed a quarter and was bleeding after being hit hard out of the gate, essentially just galloping home under Gabriel Saez. DUNKIRK (Unbridled's Song) stumbled a couple of jumps after the break, but that wasn't as much of a factor as Edgar Prado's guidance -- he was rushing the gray colt forward like he was aboard a front runner and got his mount slammed around for no reason approaching the first turn. Prado could have taken a lesson from Borel.
Mine That Bird closed from far back, but the front runners still ran well. Second-placer PIONEEROF THE NILE (Empire Maker) enjoyed a terrific trip under Garrett Gomez, closely tracking Join in the Dance from the start, and looked like a winner approaching the stretch. Fourth-placer PAPA CLEM (Smart Strike) was forwardly placed, stalking in fourth most of the way with Rafael Bejarano, and just missed third by a head. Join in the Dance turned in a respectable effort, much better than expected from the maiden winner, and led the way into the stretch. He weakened only to seventh.
MUSKET MAN (Yonaguska) was farther back during the early stages following a bad start but still raced within striking range under Eibar Coa. They took the overland route to reach contention turning for home and wound up only a nose back of Pioneerof the Nile in third. Bred to be a six-furlong specialist, Musket Man is as hard-hitting as they come.
The defections of Quality Road (Elusive Quality) and I Want Revenge (Stephen Got Even) hurt the depth of the field, and the Derby was held over a sloppy track. Most people will label Mine That Bird's victory as a complete fluke, an impossible winner who will be up the track two weeks later in the Preakness S. (G1). But that's horse racing; 50-1 upsets happen. Mine That Bird was the best horse on Saturday, and I give credit to Chip Woolley for a great training performance -- he had the former $9,500 yearling ready for the race of his life.