05/03/2009 11:00PM

Heard of him now, Kentucky?

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Chip Woolley gets a kiss from girlfriend Kim Carr after Mine That Bird's Derby upset.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Chip Woolley is on a roll. Barely a full day after he won the Kentucky Derby with Mine That Bird, the Woolley stable clicked at short odds in the first race on Sunday afternoon at SunRay Park, a 440-yard maiden test for 3-year-olds of the Quarter Horse persuasion.

So let that be an end to all those snickers rippling across the waves of Derby media. So what if Woolley had only won a single Thoroughbred race in 2009 before last Saturday? Anybody ever hear about picking your spots? Line 'em up on that wall over there - Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Larry Jones, Nick Zito, and all the rest - and ask them with a gun to their heads if they had to pick two races to win between the first day in January and the first Saturday in May, I guarantee one of them would be the Kentucky Derby and the other one wouldn't matter.

And another thing, sports writers from Kentucky maybe ought to check the ratio of Nobel laureates to fried food stands in the Commonwealth before getting all huffy about how Mine That Bird and his people came from less than zero to win the Greatest Race on Earth. Smart guys like Pat Forde of ESPN.com were barely able to curb their condescension, to wit:

"Before arriving at Churchill, Mine That Bird was an underachiever on the obscure New Mexico circuit," Forde wrote, "which is kind of like going from playing in a bad garage band in Dubuque to rave reviews at major clubs in Los Angeles."

This hurts me in my garage band weakness, as well. But come on, New Mexico gets two U.S. senators, just like the other 49 states, and neither of them is Mitch McConnell. I'm not even sure John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader got the joke when he spoke with two-time Derby winner and former bull rider Carl Nafzger about how Mine That Bird had received no attention at all in the days leading up to the race.

"But there wouldn't be," Nafzger told Clay. "He's from New Mexico, you know." Nafzger hails Plainview, Texas, population 8,263 in the year before his birth, and less than an hour's drive to the New Mexico state line.

Then there's the downright nasty comments circulating Churchill Downs in the wake of Mine That Bird's romp, cruel and cutting and un-Christianlike to the core, like this one, overheard as Woolley was about to address the assembled media:

"Can you believe it? Some dumb-ass from New Mexico just won the Derby."

Only that was Woolley himself, shaking his head in wonder while on a call back home, one of dozens piling up on his cell phone.

"Look at this, already 32 messages," Woolley said. "Before this, I had to pay people to talk to me."

At that point in the day, the discomfort in Woolley's lower right leg was getting pretty intense, and somewhere there was a Crown Royal and Seven with his name on it. He'd already humped it from the backside to the paddock, then to the infield winner's stand and back on crutches, and just now sitting down and answering a few questions about his suddenly famous little gelding sounded downright relaxing.

The best thing about having the Triple Crown spotlight on a trainer from the old Southwest, though, is figuring out what he's not saying.

For starters, any questions about Mine That Bird's ability to respond to every one of Calvin Borel's daring commands during his thrill-ride of a race could have been answered with a look at the equipment. In a field full of shadow rolls, blinkers, figure-8s, and ring bits, Mine That Bird went out there with the equivalent of Mike Tyson's black trunks and shoes without socks - a simple D-bit, perfectly placed nose band, and no tongue tie.

Giving credit where credit was due, Woolley praised the work of his assistant trainer getting Mine That Bird through a pair of races at Sunland Park earlier this year, while Woolley himself was getting his lower right leg put back together. Only it had to be dragged out of him that his assistant's name is Bill Woolley, his brother.

Chip Woolley effectively dismissed the budding lore about hauling Mine That Bird from his home base at Sunland Park to Churchill Downs by describing his conveyance as "a Turnbow Trailer, a super nice rig," and then tried to coldwater the fact that he was the first trainer to win a Triple Crown race on crutches since Elliott Walden took the 1997 Belmont Stakes with Victory Gallop. In Walden's case, it was a basketball injury. In Woolley's, it was a motocycle's back wheel that came out from under him on gravel and pounded him into the ground like an angry Brahma, which he used to ride as well. But who hasn't had that happen?

"He broke the heck out of it," said Sean Winsor, racing secretary at SunRay Park. "They got all kinds of steel in there and they were even worried there for awhile he might not ever walk on it again.

"I'll tell you what kind of guy he is," Winsor added. "I've been racing secretary here for three years, and I've worked all over New Mexico for quite some time. Whatever track I'm at, usually Chip is there. I'm in a wheelchair - I rolled a pickup almost 11 years ago, back when I was a horseshoer - and my wheelchair crane in the back of my truck is forever breaking down. Chip's the first one I call every time something happens, and he's usually right there, no worries."

Sure hope Winsor's rig hangs in there for awhile. Woolley will be kind of busy.