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The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world.

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Long Odds; Short Ride on the Rail

Posted May 06, 2009 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

Mine That Bird hit the record books not only for winning the 135th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, he had the second-longest odds in the field at 50-1 and won by the second-longest margin ever at 6 ¾ lengths (Assault won by 8 in 1946).

Why were the odds against Mine That Bird? Since he actually earned a place in the starting gate at the Derby, it seems he would have had a 1-in-19 shot at winning (I Want Revenge was scratched the morning of the race). But before he even entered the gate, several factors were against him:

  • Horse –Mine That Bird is a gelding (castrated male), which can be considered a pro or con. Some consider geldings to be less competitive – others think they're easier to handle than colts that are easily distracted by hormones. Measuring in at just 15.1 hands (five feet one inch at the base of the neck) tall, Mine That Bird is quite small by racehorse standards. Speed, stride length, and tactics can make up for size.
  • Price - Mine That Bird was purchased for just $9,500 (after he was the two-year-old champion in Canada, he was sold for $400,000 – more on this later). For the average backyard horse owner, this can be a hefty price tag. In the racing world, however, it's pennies. Sheik Mohammad, owner of Dubai's Godolphin Racing, paid $2.1 for Desert Party when the colt was a two-year-old. Money really can't buy everything – the colt finished 14th in the Derby.

  • Prep – Although he won four races as a two-year-old, Mine That Bird got his start in Canada on a synthetic surface – not the most traditional Derby preparation. His U.S. preps at age three in New Mexico included a second-place finish in the Borderland Derby; he also came in fourth in the Sunland Derby – neither race is graded or part of the traditional Kentucky Derby prep trail. With less competition in these races, nobody knew how he'd fare in the Derby.
  • Travel - The horse's trainer, Bennie Woolley Jr., drove Mine That Bird 21-hours from New Mexico to Louisville, Kentucky. Most top horses are shipped via plane for even short distances, such as New York to Kentucky, to avoid travel-related complications. It's arguable that the Godolphin horses were on a plane for a long time as well; however, horses regularly travel from the U.S. to Dubai and compete well.

Mine That Bird has a lot of great things going for him which tend to be overlooked:

  • Pedigree - Luckily, Mine That Bird has breeding on his side. Birdstone, winner of the 2004 Belmont Stakes, is his sire. This lineage makes him a grandson of 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone and great-grandson of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. His grandsire on his dam's (mother's) side sired Smarty Jones – yet another Derby winner.

  • Record – As Canadian two-year-old champion in 2008, Mine That Bird was clearly a standout last year – although not one that most people noticed as a typical Derby contender. Although he sold for $400,000 after that, he was still overlooked and not over-raced – and so stood a better chance than most past American two-year-old champions who turn out to be flops at three.

  • Ability – At two, Mine That Bird showed he was able to continue winning as distance increased. This will definitely help as the Belmont approaches. Sire Birdstone also won the Belmont.

Mine That Bird was able to break through the odds and with the guidance of Calvin Borel living up to his nickname ("Borail") and hugged the rail to victory. On May 16 we'll see if he has what it takes in the Preakness for the second part of the test of a champion!



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