- Paul Moran
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Scratch your head.
Shrug your shoulders.
There are moments, no matter who you are, what you've seen or how long you've been here, that will make you feel as though you just walked through the door for the first time and nothing quite makes sense. The sight of Mine That Bird moving beneath Calvin Borel, a 50-1 missile flying over the mud and hard against the rail to win the 135th Kentucky Derby, was one of those.
Who's number eight?
An unidentified flying object with bolo-tie-wearing owners eerily rooted in Roswell, N.M.
What the ?
A smallish gelding, a $9,500 yearling turned champion 2-year-old in Canada, sold for $400,000 to self-described cowboys who raced quarter horses in the Southwest before finishing last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year, unable to win in two starts at Sunland Park in New Mexico, hauled for 21 hours to Louisville in a trailer hitched to a pickup truck driven by his trainer -- an ex-rodeo cowboy who happens to be on crutches with injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident -- not only wins the Kentucky Derby but passes every other horse in the field.
This one breaks every convention, shatters deeply held beliefs about what it takes to win the Derby and does it right under the noses of a bunch of Hall of Fame trainers, future Hall of Fame trainers, Jenny Craig and the ruler of Dubai.
And who is this Bennie "Chip" Woolley Jr., anyway?
Just another guy in a black cowboy hat Friday; part of Kentucky Derby history Saturday. A country song is probably already in the works.
What the ?
Turn the page.
Mine That Bird's stunning victory Saturday is footnoted by the absence of Florida Derby winner Quality Road, who would have been the favorite had he not been denied the opportunity to run by an untimely hoof injury, and I Want Revenge, the Wood Memorial winner who was the morning-line favorite but was scratched early Saturday with an ankle injury that flared up overnight.
But Quality Road and I Want Revenge will not be in waiting at Pimlico if and when Woolley drives his pickup truck through the stable gate in Baltimore. Nor will most of the horses Mine That Bird defeated in Louisville make the trip to Charm City.
It is understandable that the connections of Mine That Bird were not looking beyond the Derby, and Woolley on Sunday morning was hesitant to commit the surprising winner to the second leg of the Triple Crown.
"It wasn't something that was on our radar, but we will decide in a day or two," Woolley told reporters. "We're still trying to grasp what happened yesterday. First time in the Derby and to win it at 50-1 is a humbling experience. The Preakness tends to be a little more speed-biased, and I don't know if that is going to fit our horse. There is no obligation. What's best for the horse has to come first."
Of the others who ran in the Derby, only one, the Gary Stute-trained Papa Clem, fourth, is committed to the Preakness, but the connections of at least a handful of others are considering the trip to Maryland.
"I looked at the charts this morning, and I was only beaten a nose and a head for second," Stute said. "To be honest, Bob Baffert's horse [Pioneerof the Nile] came over and bumped me. If it were a normal race, there might have been an inquiry. With any luck we could have been second."
Baffert said a decision on the Preakness would be made in several days while Pioneerof the Nile remains at Churchill. Derek Ryan, trainer of the third finisher, Musket Man, said the Illinois Derby winner is a prospective participant in the Preakness but deferred commitment. Friesan Fire, the betting favorite who suffered superficial lacerations after a poor start in what was a roughly run Derby, is a possibility, as are General Quarters and Join in the Dance.
While Nick Zito was in Louisville with his last-minute Derby entrant, Nowhere To Hide, who finished 17th of 19, he dispatched Miner's Escape to Pimlico for the Federico Tesio Stakes, a popular objective of prospective Preakness starters. The colt, a maiden winner at Gulfstream in his last race before the Tesio, won easily and enters the Preakness frame.
Zito has saddled 19 Preakness starters, including 1996 winner Louis Quatorze, and has had at least one starter in 15 of the last 18 years. Along with Miner's Escape, he has Just a Coincidence, third in the Wood Memorial, in his potential Preakness arsenal.
Mr. Fantasy, winner of the Withers Stakes in New York, another race that has historically been a useful prep for the Preakness, is a probable starter in the Triple Crown's second leg.
The Barclay Tagg-trained Hello Broadway, second in the Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream early in the year and winner of an allowance race at Keeneland in his most recent effort, is on the list of Preakness prospects as is the Todd Pletcher trainee, Take The Points, fourth in the Santa Anita Derby and under consideration for the Kentucky Derby until midweek.
A 50-1 Derby winner almost guarantees a crowd at entry box for the Preakness, the field for which is limited to 14. Coincidentally, Grindstone, Mine That Bird's sire, is the last Derby winner to miss the Preakness. He was injured after the 1996 Derby.
Among the things Mine That Bird's connections might consider in the decision-making process: Seven of the last dozen Derby winners -- 58 percent -- have gone on to New York in position to win the Triple Crown.
At the moment, only Mine That Bird enjoys the potential to win the rarest and most coveted title in sport, and that will undoubtedly weigh heavily on the decision-making process. Everything changed for Mine That Bird and his people Saturday. In three weeks, the nobody horse from nowhere could very well be the toast of Times Square.
Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He has also been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul maintains paulmoranattheraces.blogspot.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the moment, only Mine That Bird enjoys the potential to win the rarest and most coveted title in sport, and that will undoubtedly weigh heavily on the decision-making process.