04/24/2014 2:22PM

Hovdey: Longshots looking for a Hollywood ending


If it is late April, it is the time of year when rank longshots and abject no-hopers come out of the woodwork to clutter the Kentucky Derby field with their unreasonable dreams. No need to point fingers. They know who they are. As long as there are 20 stalls available in the two starting gates at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, there will be horses involved who will be lucky to make the course, let alone have a shot at a piece of the prize.

Blame it on the Bird.

Mine That Bird, the winner of the 2009 Derby at odds of 50-1, has become the patron saint of delusional thinking. If this modest little gelding, just off the trailer from a 1,250-mile ride from deep in the wilds of New Mexico, can sidle into town as the last passenger on the Derby bus, trained by a guy on crutches who looks like the lost Earp brother, and ridden by a jock who scrapes more paint than Van Gogh, then shame on anyone else for not giving it a try. Right?

Besides, Mine That Bird is not the only horse lately to have won the Kentucky Derby at the magical odds of 50-1. In 2005, it was Giacomo nailing the roses at the same price, and if he had not gotten up in the last yards to win by a half-length, all the glory would have gone to runner-up Closing Argument, who was a ripe 71-1 in the wagering.

“I couldn’t blame them for the odds,” said Jerry Moss, who raced Giacomo with his wife, Ann. “The only race we’d won was a maiden race. But he was doing really good, and I thought we deserved to be there. It was obviously a thrill, a real life-changing experience. Annie and I are not the same people we were before winning the Derby.”

Odds aside, neither Giacomo nor Closing Argument supplied grist for the true dreamers. They were nice horses with a decent level of established form who were owned by well-heeled, familiar patrons and trained by respected horsemen. If anything at all, Giacomo and Closing Argument merely represented the unpredictable peaks and valleys of the gambling terrain that often exist in a race with 20 individual betting interests.

But for what happened when Mine That Bird won the 2009 Derby by six lengths, there was no sensible explanation. It was a moment that required creative interpretation, once all the tests had cleared. Salvador Dali to paint the official portrait. Professor Irwin Corey to call the race. Hunter S. Thompson to write it up while high as a kite.

“The lizard woman at the windows behind Section 216 reached across her counter and demanded I explain my winning $100 tickets on the Bird. ‘Are you insane?’ she shrieked, her split tongue tickling the tip of my nose. ‘How could you bet good money on a horse from New Zealand?’ ”

Now there is the movie. “50 to 1” is working its way across the country, perpetuating the Mine That Bird myth that anyone and any horse can win the Kentucky Derby. Jim Wilson, the mythmaker-in-chief, co-wrote, produced, and directed the film as a way to A) empty his bank account, B) pay tribute to the sport he loves, and C) vicariously live the dream of winning the Kentucky Derby, which, as an owner and breeder of Thoroughbreds, he does without effort.

Wilson was back home in Los Angeles this week after a six-week barnstorming tour across seven heartland states to promote the opening of “50 to 1.” For a guy who already knew what the view was like from the top – he co-produced the Oscar-winning “Dances With Wolves” with Kevin Costner – Wilson was inspired by the reaction to his very independent racing film.

“The greatest satisfaction for a filmmaker is for someone to come out of a theater and tell you, ‘I haven’t been to a film in 16 years, and thank god I went to see this movie,’ ” Wilson said.

And that really happened? With a horse-racing movie?

“Absolutely,” he replied. “When you get people saying they’ve re-engaged with the cinema because of ‘50 to 1,’ that gives you a satisfaction beyond the very difficult black-and-white financial side of trying to get an independent film out there in the face of the giant studio movies.”

Wilson said “50 to 1” will be playing in Louisville during Derby Week, and he has plans to be at the Derby itself May 3. In the meantime, he continues to be hands-on with a wider distribution while savoring his experiences on the road. He was asked if he thinks his telling of the Mine That Bird story has fueled the imagination of those who see themselves starring in a sequel.

“I think it does; are you kidding me?” Wilson said. “When we go to communities anywhere there are people in racing, their eyes just light up. ‘That’s why I’m in the game,’ they say. ‘That’s me up there.’ Because all of us who own horses have made fools of ourselves dreaming about a horse getting to a Derby, and most all of us fall short. But that dream is always there.”

Leslie Peterson More than 1 year ago
I saw the movie in Houston Texas and brought a couple of freinds along. We all loved the movie. Just a great fun film that the whole family can enjoy. We laughed, cried and cheered. Loved Christian Kane but everyone is fantastic in this film. I highly recommend #50to1. Only regret is that I only got to see it once before it left my theatre.
Yvette Dreier More than 1 year ago
I am waiting for this movie to come to Minnesota, I hope it's not too much longer. Thanks for sharing! I have been following the tour and it's been great fun!
Paula Waller More than 1 year ago
The movie has not made its debut in Florida yet but we are working hard at getting it down here. A family movie following a great story of Mine That Bird and actors and directors who have put so much into making this film, you know it is going to be one of the best pictures of the year. I am just so impressed with the premise, from the unique idea of doing a promotional tour by bus covering the same ground Mine That Bird took to the Kentucky Derby, to the amazing soundtrack and the cast and directors stopping along the way to sign autographs and be there with you to watch the movie. I would have loved to been a part of that.
Tina Walker More than 1 year ago
I have not been able to see #50to1themovie yet as it has not made it to Florida yet, However when it does come here you can bet I will be there to see it. I will have to travel 60 miles to the closest theater but so be it. Mine That Bird is an amazing horse and the cast and producers are great!
Frances Baker More than 1 year ago
Sadly ...I have not had the opportunity to see this #feelgoodflick., but I definitely plan on it. As a horse lover and fan of underdog movies, I think the story of Mine That Bird is perfect for a feel good, family movie! The fact that this horse finished in the top three in each race of the Triple Crown gives Mine That Bird authenticity as a true winner!
sroses13 More than 1 year ago
This movie gave me hope that movies could be good family fun once again. I flew from Oregon to New Mexico to follow the tour and ended up seeing the movie 3 times while I was there. If you get a chance to see this movie do so and take the family
Jeannean Sword More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVED everything about “50 to 1.” I drove from Illinois to Kentucky to see the cross-country tour they were doing to promote the movie. The added bonus was that I got to see the movie on the big screen. My only regret is that I could only watch it once while I was there. Christian Kane is such an amazing actor. He is so versatile and was perfect for the part of Mark Allen. Skeet Ulrich is also one of my favorites, and his portrayal of Chip Woolley is fantastic. Todd Lowe also added a lot of humor to the movie. The whole cast did a fabulous job. It is nice to see a feel-good movie based on a true story and something the whole family can enjoy.
Mary Brewer More than 1 year ago
It is a great movie.. It isnt a documentary.. but a drama/comedy and i love it.. I haven't been to the movie's in a very long time either until #50to1 came along. It was abt 6 yrs ago since i had been to one! Very glad i did to! i highly recommend it too.. Don't concentrate on the race or trying to figure out what is true to the exact detail of the real life story.. just sit back and enjoy!!
knttiger More than 1 year ago
They don't make movies based on Mickey Mantle's run at the Babe's record-they do it on guys like Roger Maris.... or the 5A basketball team from Indiana that beats up on the small school in the open division state tourney... There's not a movie based on War Admiral, at least not to my knowledge. Seabiscuit.. heck yes. People identify with the hopeless cause. Kty Derby Day is like March Madness...a level playing field where anybody can be a star on any given day. I love the opportunities that these racing days present. Most people root for the underdog... for the longshot. We all dream of the boxcar payoffs with that one longshot we picked out of the form- I'd much rather try and single a horse to key in the middle or top of a vertical wager and hit that bomb than worry about the perceived quality of the winner. Why trash a good horse or his connections because he's not Secretariat or Seattle Slew.? Few are, or will ever be again. I guess for some, it excuses their inability to cash a ticket on the race. It was a fluke... Luck... god's against me. It's the first Sat in May... enjoy the huge betting pools, the opportunity to win some cash, and the beauty of horse racing. Tis' a good time to be alive.
Bryan Horn More than 1 year ago
A (high priced) closer or two always comes from the clouds to clean up a place somewhere in the top 4 and it's the key to hitting this race for big $: Bird in '09; Ice Box (he was a fave but still) for 2nd in '10; AK in '11 to win; Dullahan and Went the Day Well for 3 and 4 in '12; Orb and Golden Soul for 1-2 last year. I see the pace scenario as a carbon copy of last year w/ Sigh and Wildcat leading the way and a couple of those other stalkers will slide on up as well for a sub 23, 46, 1.09 or so fractions that'll set up well for a press-stalker w/ a high cruising speed, a couple mid-pack closers and a deep closer. Right now, before PP's, I like Hopp, Ride on Curlin, Wicked Strong and Dance With Fate.