He stepped onto the stage, a plain, brown gelding, small in stature, and all but invisible among the flashy stars of the Triple Crown trail. Handicappers, racing fans, industry insiders, racing commentators, all of them rolled their eyes when reading his name in the post parade: Mine That Bird.
Steven Levitt, economist and racing fan, wrote in his Freakonomics blog, “If I had to pick a last-place finisher…it would be Mine That Bird.” In the 3-strikes formula employed by Jon White, Mine That Bird had 5. Message board commenters joked about him crossing the wire next week. His speed figures weren’t good enough, he wasn’t fast enough, he’d only won on synthetic surfaces, these same colts had beaten him at the Breeders’ Cup, where he’d come in last — there really wasn’t a good reason for him to be there.
The brown horse knew nothing of this criticism. He went to post #8 with jockey Calvin Borel in the irons, a veteran who’d ridden a Derby winner in 2007. He was in good hands. All that was left was for him to perform.
When the gates opened, he started out so far back, it was as if he’d been left at the gate. The track was sloppy, and he was hit in the face with the slick mud off the other horses’ hooves. As the field flew through the backstretch, Mine That Bird began to move up, passing horses swiftly along the rail. Turning for home, the pacesetters traded the lead in a thrilling duel. The race caller’s attention was focused on the drama at the front of the pack, but what he didn’t see was the small, brown gelding closing furiously on the rail just behind them. In a dramatic burst, the muddy gelding slipped through a slot the size of a needle’s eye on that golden rail. He was in the lead! He was drawing away by 3! 4! 6 on the wire!
The people at Churchill Downs — the ladies in the soggy hats and the Infielders as muddy as the horses– stared in shock. Mine That Bird had done the impossible, at 50-1 odds!
I love the Kentucky Derby. No other sports event can compare with its propensity for surprise winners. All of the experts, this one included, totally ignored him. But he took flight on the muddy Churchill Down strip and prevailed by 6 3/4 lengths, surpassing even Barbaro in his dominance. The only thing I can think of that even comes close to the surprise and delight in this horse’s performance is Susan Boyle.
He took the stage a small, plain, brown gelding. He entered the Winners’ Circle covered in mud and roses, humming “I Dream A Dream.”