Bombs Away Borel at 50:1: The Derby Postmortem

Pete Hausler


“It’s all in the hands!”, not sure what was better, the race or Borel after. If you read Pete Hausler’s preview before the Derby, you know he was dead right on betting wild on this one, though how could he know his picks were a tad conservative?  A 50-1 longshot did come in, as Calvin Borel does it again… Pete just sent this postmortum on the event in late last night…

Shortly after the race, I received an email from Casey, the editor here at the Fanzine Sports Desk, with the subject line: Holy Shit. Which were my sentiments exactly. I watched the race with my 6-year-old daughter, and fear I was screaming the same as the horses came down the stretch, as it became clear that a stupendous, monumental upset was happening: The 50-1 long shot Mine That Bird skimmed up the rail, exploded into the clear, and won going away, leaving behind mud clots, torn tickets, and three other colts to fight it out for title of second-best of their generation.

I have to admit: I didn’t see this one coming. A smallish horse who was lights-out as a two-year-old in Canada (Canada!), Mine That Bird won four of six races up north, moved WAY south to prep and train in New Mexico when the calendar flipped to 2009, and was 0 for 2 in two ungraded stakes races at Sunland Park, “Where the Winners Play.” (And yes, I had to look up where exactly Sunland Park, NM is, because it ain’t exactly on the main highway to Kentucky Derby fame. Talk about your roads less traveled.)

This lightly-regarded and vastly-overlooked bay gelding, who was originally purchased for $9,500, annihilated a field that most described as the strongest in years, a field that had handicappers and turf-writers scratching their collective  heads about which much-touted colt or live long shot would take the Roses.

I am part of a superfecta syndicate, where five or six fellow handicappers get together every year, kick in a hundred each, and put together a superfecta ticket.  So, this year, at our meeting, we said exactly one thing, count em, ONE thing about Mine That Bird: we joked about how MTB’s jockey, Calvin Borel, would steal one, ride in his inimitable way up the rail like he always does.

But let me be perfectly clear: we were joking. Because there was no way that this horse could win. So he was our punchline the entire night, when things got contentious or when it seemed we were going in circles about who to pick for our third spot, someone would say Mine That Bird, and we’d all have a good chuckle.

He looked like the classic case of a 2-year-old on fire, then the rest of the class caught up when they turned three. He had weak Beyer speed numbers compared to the rest of the field. Let me rephrase that: he had the WORST highest-Beyer of this 19-horse field. His highest was 80, all other entries had at least one in the 90s, and you like to see at least one triple-digit Beyer in any Derby horse you back. So going in, he appeared a step behind his competition.

The only other thing you might have liked about Mine That Bird is his sire, Birdstone, who had that indispensable, elusive quality I like to call stick-to-itive-ness. An early favorite to win the 2004 Kentucky Derby, over the four months on the Derby Trail, Birdstone was surpassed in the depth chart by numerous of his compatriots. When Derby day rolled around, he was an unfancied long shot, whose best days seemed behind him. He finished up the track in the Derby, but his connections thought he had more good races in him. Five weeks after the Derby, Birdstone shocked bettors by taking the Belmont Stakes at 35-1, not only beating Smarty Jones in an exciting stretch duel, but also ending Smarty Jones’s Triple Crown bid.

But the old “his sire was dogged” angle is a tough sell, even if you are sentimental, even if you believe in blood handicapping. So, when a horse like this wins, and beats you as a bettor, you shrug, send some happy-time mojo to his connections, and look ahead to the Preakness. You start to wonder how to bet, for or against, in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

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