The Kentucky Derby
I join Bill Plaschke in mid-column on Mine That Bird this morning:
Mine That Bird was a 50-to-1 nag who arrived here in a trailer pulled across the country by a Ford pickup truck driven by his trainer.
Bennie Woolley Jr. was a hobbled trainer who this year had as many motorcycle wrecks (1) as victories.
Mark Allen was a cowboy co-owner whose truck broke down on the drive here from New Mexico.
Borel was a jockey who never even sat on the horse until six days ago.
When Saturday's 135th Derby began with some of the best horses in the world, Mine That Bird was arguably the worst.
After a quarter of a mile, he was absolutely the worst, 19th out of 19, in last place.
After a half mile, still last.
After three-quarters of a mile, still last.
"My heart sunk," co-owner Dr. Leonard Blach said.
"I about quit watching," Allen said.
Borel found the rail. The rest of the field lost its breath. A nation of viewers rubbed their eyes.
From 19th place to 12th place to the lead down the stretch, Mine That Bird thundered past millions of dollars of horses and a whole bunch of history in becoming the most unlikely of Derby champions.
A champion who was originally purchased for $9,500.
A champion who had not won a race in seven months.
A champion who prepped for his moment of glory by finishing fourth in something called the Sunland Derby, on a track somewhere in New Mexico.
A horse handled by a bunch of black-hatted cowpokes straight out of "Blazing Saddles"?
A horse ridden by a former Derby-winning jockey who took this ride only because he couldn't get a better mount?
Borel wasn't surprised when the horse started like something out of a parking-lot pony ride.
"I didn't think I would win," he said.
But then when the competition -- missing late-scratched favorite I Want Revenge -- didn't run away from him, he began thinking.
"I was just chilling," he said. "But the other horses weren't going that much faster than him."
So Borel, who charged to victory with a late rush on the rail on Street Sense in 2007, decided to make a move and -- surprise, surprise -- the horse was ready to move with him.
"I asked him and he kept getting closer to them and then I thought, 'God, he's going to get here!' " he said.
He began that move on the rail, darted around a couple of horses, then moved back to the rail for the final push, and you think you were stunned?
Not only did none of them win it, Mine That Bird's run was so quick, so furious, he won by nearly seven lengths.
In the end, it was so easy, Borel turned and pointed repeatedly to the stands before reaching the finish line.
He said he was recognizing his fiancee, Lisa Funk, probably because she was the only one who always believed the horse could win?
"Um, no," she said.
Borel was so stunned, afterward he wouldn't leave the track, as if he thought the victory would disappear when he did.
That is the true beauty of the Kentucky Derby, the element makes it so endearingly cool even for folks who wouldn't know a stirrup from a bit.
It's America's one sporting championship where you can actually just "give it a shot," and still hit. Because of the size of the field and the trickiness of the track, it is a championship where the best doesn't always win, where money doesn't always rule, where two minutes can change lives and careers.
It's nice to know there still exists a place where greatness -- like Mine That Bird on a cloudy, glowing Saturday -- can come streaking out of the pack.
As Borel summed it up: "I didn't know he would gimme the response he gimme."
Neither did anyone else, and wasn't that a hoot?
Roses raining on us all.
It's a hoot! Look at these and watch for the movie!