It’s a horse race… You never know who’s gonna win, but someone should have been minding that bird!

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Okay – so my pick for the Kentucky Derby wasn’t the winner - but if my pick, General Quarters, was to lose, I couldn't be happier for who won. I was rooting for General Quarters because I love the story and I always love the underdog.

Or underhorse.

General Quarters is owned and trained by Thomas McCarthy, a retired teacher and high school principal who has spent his entire life dreaming of having a horse in the Kentucky Derby. His passion has always been horses, so to keep it alive he’s always had a horse or two on the side during his 30+ year career in education. At 75 his life-long dream was finally realized…. It's just a great story!

What I also find heart-warming is that General Quarters is not a million dollar horse owned by one of the million dollar stables. General Quarters is owned AND trained by the same 75-year old retired high school principal – a rarity in today’s big money racing circles. Rarely do you see today the horse owner also being the trainer. And rarely do you see an owner /trainer that is the owner of only one horse. Mr. McCarthy poured his entire heart into his one horse, General Quarters.

As sad as I am for General Quarters' loss (but very happy that he and all the other horses are safe), I have to say that Mine That Bird, the winner of this year’s race is another great story. To be honest, I keep up with the horses every year and usually have my pick a good two weeks or more before the race. But – Mine That Bird was simply not on my radar and I feel completely rotten for over -looking him and his amazing story. It’s a good one!

Like General Quarters, Mine That Bird is not your typical big business story, or your typical million dollar race horse. In fact, he sold for $9,500 and was trained by a cowboy in New Mexico, Bennie “Chip” Woolley, Jr. Mine That Bird was a true Derby upset with 50-1 odds of winning; now being considered one of the biggest upsets in Derby history. I love it! The story gets even better…. Mine That Bird (the only gelding in the race), was hauled to Kentucky from New Mexico by his trainer in a pickup truck and trailer. A far cry from the typical air conditioned fancy tractor-trailer getups in which most thoroughbreds of Derby quality travel. Chip Woolley, a former rodeo cowboy and quarter horse trainer, hauled Mine That Bird himself on the 21 hour trek to the Derby. Oh – and get this, he is in crutches after breaking something like 21 bones in his foot from a motorcycle accident! But that didn’t stop him from driving with one foot across the country with his $9,500 horse in-tow.

While in the winner’s circle with cameras all around and traditional roses draped over Mine That Bird, the NBC interviewer said something to him like, you were the un-known trainer coming into this race, very few know who you are. Chip Woolley responded, “They’ll know me now.”

You just gotta love it! Okay – the other reason I can’t believe I didn’t do better homework on Mine That Bird is because of his jockey, Calvin Borel. Calvin is one of my favorite jockeys; I adore his smile and his thick Cajun accent, and of course his successful career. Calvin won the Derby in 2007, and also won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, the day before the Derby. I love Calvin because he is always so visibly emotional and sweet after winning a race. You regularly see him kiss his horse before a race and affectionately love on them after a race (whether they win or not). After winning the Derby yesterday he said in a very broken, emotionally filled voice about his deceased parents, “Thank you Mom and Daddy, I wish you were here to see all that I have accomplished.” Calvin Borel makes me weep… He’s just that sweet, loving kind of person that you want to take home….

Take home and feed.

During Friday’s Kentucky Oaks, there was footage of him carrying a little girl wearing a surgical mask as she pat his winning horse, Rachel Alexandra, before the race. At the winner’s circle after the race, he was also seen carrying the same little girl. I learned that this little girl’s name coincidentally is also Rachel, and that she has a passionate love for horses. How did this little girl named Rachel land the opportunity to get up close and personal with the race horse, Rachel Alexander, and be a part of history in the winner’s circle?

It was her wish in the Make A Wish Foundation.

It was a good weekend of Kentucky history for Calvin Borel winning both the Oaks and the Derby; for all the running horses that ended both races completely safe and sound; for a broken down cowboy with a winning horse; and for little girl named Rachel who got her last wish….

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