May 2, 2009
Mine That Bird, a little-known three-year-old Canadian-bred colt with 50-1 odds, who was improbably hauled to the Kentucky Derby by a trainer with a broken foot in a 21-hour drive from New Mexico, pulled off the second biggest upset in the history of the Run for the Roses today in Louisville, KY, when he won the 135th Derby in 2:02 3/5, pulling ahead of the pack by an astonishing 6 3/4-lengths on a muddy track. The race horse was 15 lengths behind coming out of the first turn but progressed through the pack, found a hole along the rail, and the rest was history. The gelding is only the third Canadian-bred horse to win the Derby, joining Northern Dancer (1964) and Sunny’s Halo (1983).
Despite being the reigning two-year-old champion in Canada and despite his impressive pedigree, no one seemed to be paying much attention to Mine That Bird in the States. The three-year-old is the son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone and his grandsire, Grindstone, won the Kentucky Derby in 1996. The colt won the 2008 Sovereign Award as the top two-year-old in Canada after capturing three stakes. He’s owned by Double Eagle Ranch and Bueno Suerte Equine of Roswell, New Mexico, who reportedly paid just $9,500 for Mine in 2007. Trainer Bennie Woolley Jr., 45, also beat the odds, as no first-time trainer has ever before won the Derby.
As sports fans thronged to Churchill Downs, and just outside Gate 1, a bronze statue of Barbaro kept watch over the site of his greatest victory. The legendary Barbaro is now the only horse buried on the grounds of the race track. He was honored for his fighting spirit, which captured our hearts as he fought to survive and broke our hearts with his January 2007 death. The statue of the beloved thoroughbred was unveiled this week and marks Barbaro’s final resting place.
Barbaro’s owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson of Lael Stables in West Grove, Pennsylvania, wanted the 1,500-pound statue placed just outside of both the Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs, so that the colt’s fans could pay their respects without having to pay any admission fees. Barbaro’s ashes are interred under the base of the statue. The 2006 Kentucky Derby winner shattered his right hind leg during the May 2006 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore, only a few weeks after his Derby victory. After an eight-month struggle to recover, he was finally euthanized. The artwork, attached to a horizontal brass rail to give the impression that Barbaro and jockey Edgar Prado are suspended in midair, shows Barbaro striding powerfully toward the finish line at Churchill Downs.
In a statement made at the Churchill Downs website, Roy Jackson said: “Gretchen and I are pleased to be collaborating with Churchill Downs in this wonderful project. In the year that has just preceded, we have spent much time thinking about Barbaro’s memorial and where it would be best placed. Churchill Downs became the obvious site for us. It was here that he ran his best race. It was here where we spent our most memorable day as horse owners and breeders. It was here where his racing fans could visit daily.”
Barbaro’s fight for survival captured the nation’s interest; his condition was reported by the news media on a daily basis. His stall at the Equine Intensive Care Unit at the New Bolton Center of the University of Pennsylvania was decorated with thousands of Get Well cards, and animal lovers sent presents, flowers, saint medallions and holy water in hopes of the horse’s recovery. Since Barbaro’s death, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised in his name in the search for a cure for laminitis, the crippling hoof disease that ultimately caused his death. A large anonymous donation was also made to the New Bolton Center to establish the Barbaro Fund for the care and treatment of large animals. His owners made an endowment to the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school, funding a chair for equine disease research.
Photo credit: Jeff Haynes / Reuters and Jamie Squire / Getty Images
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