03/13/2013 1:56PM

Catching up with Mine That Bird

Barbara D. Livingston
Mine That Bird won the 2009 Kentucky Derby with Calvin Borel aboard.

Every year, thousands of fans descend upon central Kentucky to admire their favorite Kentucky Derby winners as they enjoy their post-racetrack lives on the farm.

As it turns out, quite a few visit Roswell, N.M., to do the exact same thing.

As travelers enter the southeast New Mexico town, they are greeted by a sign welcoming them to the home of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who resides at co-owner Mark Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch.

The 7-year-old Birdstone gelding won over the hearts of fans and made the cover of Sports Illustrated with his last-to-first, rail-skimming win in the Kentucky Derby under Calvin Borel, after being universally panned by experts and horseplayers alike and sent off at odds of 50.60-1. Mine That Bird went on to finish second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont en route to being named an Eclipse Award finalist for champion 3-year-old male.

Nearly four years later, the gelding’s underdog story still hits home with fans.

“A week ago, we had a lady from Maryland ride the bus all the way out here,” said Leonard Blach, D.V.M., one of Mine That Bird’s co-owners under the nom de course Buena Suerte Equine. “[The bus ride is] three and a half days. She stayed here for three days, and then took three and a half days back on the bus. She came only to see Mine That Bird. She was in love with that horse and it was just the trip of a lifetime.”

Blach, whose Buena Suerte Equine Clinic is across the road from the farm, said Mine That Bird gets about ten to 12 visitors per week from across the country to his paddock, which is adorned with a replica of Churchill Downs’ signature Twin Spires over his shaded area to commemorate his biggest win.

“He sure does have a lot of visitors, and he knows it,” said Blach, who noted that the gelding’s treat of choice is peppermints. “He poses for pictures, and he loves visitors.”

Mine That Bird’s day typically begins around 7 a.m., when he is let out into his two-acre paddock after being groomed. He is joined in an adjacent paddock by a retired Quarter Horse that Blach and Allen campaigned to keep the classic winner company.

Around sundown, Mine That Bird is taken back to his air-conditioned stall for the night and fed. On especially hot Southwest days, the gelding is sometimes brought in early for a bath.

“He’s just taking retirement really well,” Blach said. “He’s mellowed down. When he first retired [after the 2010 racing season], we took him to the training track and galloped him maybe twice a week just to let him down, but now he’s settled down well and is taking to his retirement.”

While Mine That Bird has been taking it easy, his story is in the midst of a multi-pronged renaissance, led by the upcoming feature film 50-to-1.

The feature is produced and directed by Jim Wilson, whose production credits include The Bodyguard and Dances With Wolves. It is currently in post-production and is expected to be shopped around to distributors in April, with a release scheduled for later this year.

As with most racing films, Mine That Bird was portrayed by other horses for the majority of the production, aside from the live footage of the Kentucky Derby and a few scenes at Double Eagle Ranch.

“We didn’t haul him off or use him for any particular shooting with the actors or anything,” said Blach, who will be portrayed in the film by veteran character actor William Devane. “They had another horse that looked exactly like him, with the size and the markings. They had a perfect match for him. The only person in the movie that’s going to play himself, other than a little bit of Mine That Bird, is Calvin Borel.”

In addition to getting the Hollywood treatment, Mine That Bird’s story has become the subject of a children’s graphic novel trilogy written by Price Hall and Rod McCall, who also illustrated the series. The books follow Mine That Bird’s journey with several animal friends from his early life as a foal, to being voted Canadian champion juvenile male at two, and through his Kentucky Derby win.

“[The books have] gone over really well,” Blach said. “I don’t know how many they made, but I know the supply’s getting low. It’s a cute little story.”

Blach and Allen also announced on March 7 that Mine That Bird will soon be returning to the site of his historic win, enabling fans to visit him in the Kentucky Derby Museum’s paddock at Churchill Downs during the iconic racetrack’s spring meet. The gelding is scheduled to arrive on April 14, and will remain at the museum through July 4.

“They let us film there, and gave us the rights to the Kentucky Derby filming, and have been so nice to us the whole time, and we feel like it’ll help us with this movie too,” Blach said. “It’ll be a little promotion.”