“This is a John Wayne, Howard Hawks kind of movie — it starts out with a good bar fight,” says actor William Devane, who portrays Dr. Leonard Blach, who bought the horse. “(It’s the) little guys against the big guys. In the end, the little guys kinda win one.”
And those “little guys” includes a horse named Mine That Bird who was, as the title implies, a 50-to-1 shot to win the Kentucky Derby in 2009. The film follows eight months in the lives of trainer Chip Woolley and Mine That Bird’s owners, a couple of guys from Roswell. It doesn’t show what follows, although it should be noted “Bird” finished second in that year’s Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes.
As New York Times writer Joe Drape reported in late May that year, “when Mine That Bird squirted through a hole in the rail and skipped from the muddy track into the lane all alone, the 153,563 at Churchill Downs checked their programs to see who the heck the No. 8 horse was.”
How could this happen? That 50:1 long shot crossed the finish line six and three-quarters lengths ahead of the runner-up. While it took Mine That Bird just 2 minutes, 2.66 seconds to cover the Derby’s mile-and-a-quarter distance, it had taken his trainer, Woolley (portrayed by David Atkinson), “a lifetime and a couple of days to get into the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs,” noted Drape.
And it’s well depicted in the movie, too.
So, too, is this: “The 45-year-old Woolley, a former bareback rodeo rider, loaded Mine That Bird in a van and hauled him behind his truck from his base in New Mexico, stopping at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, so his horse could gallop a couple of miles. Those were hard miles, especially because Woolley is on crutches after breaking his leg in a recent motorcycle accident.” That’s included in Drape’s piece for the Times.
The horses run to the roses that year was totally unexpected; when Devane gets the call his new horse is qualified for the Derby, thanks to how it ran in Canada the previous year, he thinks it’s a gag. It’s not, of course.
“(Devane) paid more than the $9,500 Mine That Bird fetched in the auction ring — $400,000, to be exact, after he won four races in a row. … Mine That Bird earned a first-place check worth more than $1.4 million and returned the second-largest win payout in Derby history — $103.20 for a $2 bet.”
Jockey Calvin Borel, who plays himself in the movie, has ridden almost 5,000 winners in his hall of fame career — but coming from behind to the win the 2009 Kentucky Derby might be his most memorable.
In fact, in the featurette on YouTube, he says he got “chill bumps” as the scene at the winner’s circle was recreated.
“It was unbelievable. In my heart, really and truly, I think this is going to be something great because it’s so real. I have never seen a horse movie as believable as this one.”
With a budget of $8.5 million and shot in more than 30 locations around New Mexico, plus Sunland Park and a handful of locations in California and Kentucky, you won’t see many computer-generated effects, mainly the Land of Enchantment’s vistas and shots of life in middle America. (Numerous features about the movie and its making are on YouTube.)
The premiere “rock-star style” caravan, which began in New Mexico — there was a showing at the historic KiMo Theater in downtown Albuquerque on Wednesday — will cover 10,000 miles. The cast and filmmakers, plus Mine That Bird (at some stops) and writer/director/producer Jim Wilson, will weave their way from here to Kentucky.
“We’re bringing ’50 to 1′ to the people of America,” Wilson said. “The tour mirrors not only the true story, but also the release.”
He didn’t think viewers outside of New Mexico would notice the Rail Runner Express, included in a scene of the trip to Kentucky, in a “scene” in Arkansas.
On Feb. 11, 2010, Mine That Bird was unanimously voted New Mexico Horse of the Year for 2009 by the New Mexico State House of Representatives. The bill was introduced by state Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, who explained, “… Blach and Mark Allen (Bird’s owners) have brought New Mexico positive worldwide recognition.”
And this movie will bring even more.