Friday, April 30, 2010
2010 Kentucky Derby
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Chip Woolley is back.
Good articles from www.espn.com and Pat Forde
Got no horses. Got nothing to do, other than Be Chip Woolley. And in this town on this week, that's a fun job.
The man who trained the horse that shocked the world in the Kentucky Derby a year ago, Mine That Bird, is meandering around the barn area at Churchill Downs. And where he goes, handshakes, back slaps, party invitations and can-I-get-a-picture requests follow.
This is his "Cheers" -- the place where everybody knows his name, and is certainly glad he came back.
Here, thanks to a life-altering two minutes, he is more than just a small-time New Mexico thoroughbred trainer whose career has unceremoniously returned to normal. Here, he is a celebrity and a savant, asked repeatedly to handicap this year's race. Here, they now display the crutches he hobbled around on all last spring in the Kentucky Derby Museum.
Woolley still has the black cowboy hat and the Fu Manchu mustache. The only outward changes from last year are the fact he's no longer slowed down by a badly broken right leg, and the perpetual lump in his throat.
"It's been surprisingly emotional," he said. "I don't think until you run in the Derby you can really grasp how big the Derby is, and how historic it is. When you're in it, everything is happening at such a high rate of speed, you don't have a chance to reflect on it and enjoy it."
This time, he's had a chance to reflect and enjoy. Naturally, that included a trip to the Derby Museum to see his crutches, and watch the race from his wildest dreams.
"A lot wells up inside of you," Woolley said of watching the video. "If it don't choke you up, you need to quit.
"Coming back, you're just overwhelmed. You realize how hard it is to get here, and how hard it is to win the race."
That Woolley did, somehow. The proof that it really happened is in gold letters on the façade of the Churchill Downs paddock:
Mine That Bird 2009
It's right there where they annually put the name of the most recent Derby winner. So it wasn't a dream, it wasn't fiction, it wasn't Hollywood. A 50-1 gelding who hadn't won a race in seven months and who floundered on the obscure New Mexico racing circuit really did win the biggest race in America.
Only once -- Donerail, at 91-1 in 1913 -- has a longer shot won the Derby.
"I really never thought I could win," Woolley said. "I thought I could finish fourth or so."
But when Calvin Borel bravely and brilliantly urged Mine That Bird through a narrow opening on the rail and incomprehensibly drew off, fourth was out the window. So were third and second. A blanket of roses materialized in the horse's immediate future.
And the world got an introduction to the unvarnished cowboys who looked out of place amid the bluegrass bluebloods -- and out of place at the postrace press conference. Frankly, they looked as stunned as all the people asking them questions.
Borel, we knew. He'd just won his first Derby two years earlier aboard Street Sense. But nobody knew a thing about owners Mark Allen and Leonard Blach. Or about Woolley.
The backstory was all charm: how Woolley personally drove Mine That Bird across the country to Kentucky in a trailer hitched to his Ford F-450, "with my broken leg on the god-danged dashboard, trying to keep the swelling down." How he and the horse whiled away the days leading up to the race in complete obscurity, overlooked by everyone. How they combined with Borel to shock the racing world.
And then Mine That Bird showed it wasn't a complete fluke, finishing a game second in the Preakness to super filly Rachel Alexandra and then third in the Belmont as the only horse to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown.
After that, the joyride sputtered.
Mine That Bird was upset in the West Virginia Derby, finishing third, and then was ninth in the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall. The gelding was, in Woolley's words, "spent" after that, and has not raced since then.
Currently Mine That Bird is at Allen's training facility, and there have been rumors that the owners want to take him out of Woolley's barn permanently and send him to a different trainer.
"There's been rumors," Woolley said. "But as far as I know, I train the horse. I feel pretty secure. Me and Mark talked about it."
How would he feel to have the horse taken away from him, after delivering the racing thrill of a lifetime?
"It would be shameful," Woolley said.
The trainer said he expects Mine That Bird to be ready to resume racing soon. But in the meantime, the Derby victory has not led to a significant boost in business for Woolley. He said he's added "maybe one or two clients, not what you'd expect." His hopes of setting up an operation at Churchill have not materialized.
The training statistics from Sunland Park in New Mexico reflect the sobering return to normalcy. Woolley was the No. 10 trainer in the park's December-April meet, with 65 starters, 15 wins and 33 finishes in the money. His winning percentage (23) and in-the-money percentage (51) were solid, but his horses earned just $253,759.
He earned more than six times that amount in two minutes on the first Saturday in May last year. Which is one reason why Woolley wants to come back with a horse sometime in the near future.
"You win a Derby and it'll light a fire in you to come back," he said. "There's no feeling like it. You'll be on a quest for the rest of your life for that next one."
In the meantime, the cowboy in the black hat will settle for the enjoyable job of Being Chip Woolley, in a place where that means something special.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The top two choices in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday have 'em surrounded. Lookin At Lucky, the favorite, drew the rail, and Sidney's Candy, the second choice, drew the outside post in a field of 20 when post positions were drawn on Wednesday for Derby 136 at Churchill Downs.
Devil May Care, the filly who will challenge 19 males, wound up in the middle, in post 11.
You Bettor Beware
Sometimes, the Kentucky Derby odds-on favorite really is the best horse; sometimes, not so much. In the last decade, the favorite has won the Run for the Roses four times -- and finished seventh three times.
Year Favorite Finished
2009 Friesan Fire 18th
2008 Big Brown 1st
2007 Street Sense 1st
2006 Sweetnorthernsaint 7th
2005 Bellamy Road 7th
2004 Smarty Jones 1st
2003 Empire Maker 2nd
2002 Harlan's Holiday 7th
2001 Point Given 5th
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus 1st
• Overall, the favorite has won the Derby 52 times, finished in the money (win, place or show) 90 times and finished out of the money 45 times.
• The last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed in 1978, was not the Derby favorite. That was Alydar, who finished second.
The posts for the top two choices are not considered ideal. No horse has won from the rail since Ferdinand in 1986, and no horse beginning from the rail has finished in the money since Risen Star was third in 1988.
"He's got to break well," said Bob Baffert, who trains Lookin At Lucky and Conveyance, who drew post 12. "Plan A is to break well. Plan B is we're screwed."
Big Brown won from post 20 just two years ago, but he was clearly superior to his rivals. Though 20-horse fields have been the norm in recent years, they were rare in the early years of the Derby. The only other horse to win from post 20 was Clyde Van Dusen in 1929, when there was a walk-up start.
Post 11 also had its drawbacks. Because the Derby field is double-loaded, posts 1 and 11 go in the gate first for the 1 1/4-mile race, then 2 and 12, on down to 10 and 20.
"Eleven is a great position from which to start the race. The only thing I don't like is that she'll have to be in the gate a long time," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Devil May Care and three other horses in this Derby.
Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, made Lookin At Lucky the 4-1 favorite, with Sidney's Candy 5-1 and Awesome Act the third choice at 8-1. He has Devil May Care next at 10-1, followed by Ice Box at 12-1.
Mike Battaglia, the linemaker at Churchill Downs, has Lookin At Lucky at 3-1, and Sidney's Candy at 5-1. Battaglia made Awesome Act, Devil May Care, and Ice Box co-third choices at 10-1.
Devil May Care is adding blinkers for the Derby, while Lookin At Lucky is having his removed.
Posts were determined in a traditional blind draw, rather than the two-step draft format of recent years. Under the abandoned format, Lookin At Lucky would have had the first choice of posts.
A maximum of 20 horses can run in the Derby. A total of 22 horses were entered. By rule, the Derby field is determined by graded stakes earnings in oversubscribed fields. So two horses -- Pleasant Prince and Setsuko -- were excluded.
The field was in flux right up to the hours before entries were due. Endorsement, the Sunland Derby winner, went out for a workout Wednesday morning with her trainer, Shannon Ritter, aboard and was timed in 47.23 seconds for a half-mile. But he was limping by the time he got back to the barn, and radiographs revealed he had a fracture in his right front ankle.
"It's a lateral condylar fracture, non-displaced," said Dr. Beau Landry, the attending veterinarian. "He's going to be scheduled for surgery."
"I feel sorry for Shannon," said Elliott Walden, the general manager of WinStar Farm, which owns Endorsement. "She's done a great job with the horse. Hopefully he'll be back."
The defection of Endorsement was the second this week for WinStar's Derby prospects. WinStar, owned by Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, withdrew Rule earlier in the week because he was not training satisfactorily. WinStar still will be presented by Super Saver, who drew post 4, and American Lion, who got post 7.
Endorsement's injury allowed Make Music for Me to get into the Derby. Had Endorsement come out of his workout well, Make Music for Me would have joined Pleasant Prince and Setsuko as being excluded from the field because of insufficient graded stakes earnings. Make Music for Me was entered in the American Turf on Friday as a back-up, but now will be scratched from that race.
Make Music for Me will be ridden by Joel Rosario, who had taken a tentative call on Dean's Kitten, with the understanding he would opt for Make Music for Me if Make Music for Me got in. Robby Albarado, who was scheduled to ride Endorsement, took the vacated spot on Dean's Kitten.
Pleasant Prince is owned by Ken Ramsey, who also owns Dean's Kitten. Had Ramsey so desired, he could have failed to enter Dean's Kitten, allowing Pleasant Prince to move up another notch and get into the field. Instead, Ramsey said Pleasant Prince would await the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes on May 15.
Setsuko looked terrific when galloping on Wednesday morning, and his trainer, Richard Mandella, made several calls Wednesday morning -- "Got any news for me?" he said -- seeking updates on whether his horse would get in. But not enough dominoes fell. Setsuko is scheduled to run in the American Turf on Friday, and then will be pointed to the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, on June 5, Mandella said.
"Doesn't he look good?" Mandella said. "But what are you going to do? Rules are rules."
With 20 runners, the Derby's purse will be $2,185,200, with $1,425,200 going to the winner.
The Derby will be the 11th race on a 13-race card that begins at 10:30 a.m. Eastern. Post time for the Derby is scheduled for 6:24 p.m. The Derby will be shown live on NBC in a three-hour telecast beginning at 4 p.m.
The weather was delightful at Churchill Downs on Wednesday, with a high temperature of 68 degrees under clear skies. But the forecast for Saturday has worsened as the week has progressed. According to the National Weather Service, there is a 60 percent chance of rain on Saturday, including scattered thunderstorms, with 1 1/2 inches of rain expected to fall Friday night into Saturday morning. The high temperature Saturday is forecast to be 75 degrees.
Kentucky Derby 136 Posts
Post Horse Jockey Weight Odds
1 Lookin At Lucky Garrett Gomez 126 3-1
2 Ice Box Jose Lezcano 126 10-1
3 Noble's Promise Willie Martinez 126 12-1
4 Super Saver Calvin Borel 126 15-1
5 Line of David Rafael Bejarano 126 30-1
6 Stately Victor Alan Garcia 126 30-1
7 American Lion David Flores 126 30-1
8 Dean's Kitten Robby Albarado 126 50-1
9 Make Music For Me Joel Rosario 126 50-1
10 Paddy O'Prado Kent Desormeaux 126 20-1
11 Devil May Care John Velazquez 121 10-1
12 Conveyance Martin Garcia 126 12-1
13 Jackson Bend Mike Smith 126 15-1
14 Mission Impazible Rajiv Maragh 126 20-1
15 Discreetly Mine Javier Castellano 126 30-1
16 Awesome Act Julien Leparoux 126 10-1
17 Dublin Terry Thompson 126 12-1
18 Backtalk Miguel Mena 126 50-1
19 Homeboykris Ramon Dominguez 126 50-1
20 Sidney's Candy Joe Talamo 126 5-1