JC / Railbird

Mine That Bird

The Double

There are cowboys, a bucking horse, and jockey Calvin Borel playing himself in the trailer for “50-1,” the movie loosely based on Mine That Bird’s improbable victory in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, but the image that arrested me was of Bob Baffert, played by Bruce Wayne Eckelman in a role that’s definitely true to one thing — the trainer’s distinctive hair. I tweeted about what I thought was a wig:

Hold up, @HeadRacingTwit, aka Penelope Miller, tweeted back:

“Gotta tell you,” she said. “I saw the guy at BC and he had the same ‘do. Either it’s not a wig or he’s going Method.” She was right — there was Eckelman looking for all the world like Baffert’s twin — and she wasn’t the only one who remembered the actor causing doubletakes at Santa Anita.

“I think there’s a snippet of him in the @ErnieMunick #BC13 vid come to think of it,” added Superterrific.

There is: Watch Munick’s video and look for “the stunt Baffert.”

Good thing I didn’t have any money on the wig.

“I think the lesson here for us all,” tweeted Jen Montfort to me and Penelope, “is that the direction of the part really is crucial.”

The horse agrees.

Related: Churchill’s Darren Rogers recalled how that fateful call to trainer Chip Woolley went down: “I said, ‘You know you’ve got the earnings, right?’

(All GIFs taken from the “50-1” trailer.)

Still Looking

Trainer Chip Woolley is searching for a rider for Mine That Bird, now that Calvin Borel is permanently off the Kentucky Derby winner. The connections are looking for a rider who will commit from the West Virginia Derby through the Breeders’ Cup, but that’s apparently not such an easy promise to get. According to an anonymous agent:

“Chip Woolley’s not a buffoon,” he said, “but what he doesn’t understand is, he’s a one-horse stable. I ride for a lot of big outfits, and I’m not going to tick any of them off by committing to a guy with one horse.”

As people say, it’s just business …

4:45 PM Addendum: From today’s Churchill Barn Notes, a no-news update, except for the detail that Mine That Bird also needs a rider to breeze. “I know we are working Monday,” Woolley said. “I’m not sure who will work him.”

7/5/09 Update: And the saga comes to an end with Mike Smith — not Julien Leparoux, as briefly reported elsewhere — picking up the mount for the West Virginia Derby and Travers. “I’m very happy to have the opportunity to get back on him,” said Smith. “Hopefully I can make amends for what happened [in the Preakness] and get him home this time.” Rider Jamie Theriot will work Mine That Bird on Monday morning. “I am tickled that this is over with,” said Woolley, in a tone I imagine was of genuine relief.

Quick Links, Impressions

– Back for one day only, Blinkers Off reports on the Joe Hirsch memorial held today at Belmont and the Thursday visit of Woolley and Borel to the NYSE.

– Google seems to be sending many people here in search of Belmont undercard information: For more on those five intriguing races, please visit Foolish Pleasure and Superfecta, both of whom have written superb round-ups of the racing this Friday and Saturday.

– Other than the Belmont Stakes, the two races I’m most interested in are the Manhattan Handicap, in which Better Talk Now, winless since the 2007 Manhattan, attempts to become the first 10-year-old to score a G1 victory, and the Woody Stephens, which has drawn a deep field of interesting 3-year-old sprinters, including two undefeated starters (Hull and Everyday Heroes), Hello Broadway (running blinkers off again), and Regal Ransom, making his first start since finishing eighth in the Derby. With its likely compressed odds, this might be more of a race to watch then play for me. Regal Ransom, one of my Derby picks, is coupled with Everyday Heroes and little tempts as a 2-1 morning line favorite; Munnings, making his second start following a sharp second-place finish in a Churchill Downs allowance, is a sound alternate pick, but probably not at 4-1.

– As for the Belmont, like Steve Haskin, I’ve become smitten with Mine That Bird, the little gelding who left me stunned and confused on the first Saturday in May. Watching the Derby winner at Belmont this rainy morning confirmed for me he’s ready to run again. Not only did he appear to glide smoothly over the sloppy surface, he looked fresh (especially as he came off the track), as though the rigors of the past five weeks have left him untouched. And while he was for the most part well behaved as he was being bathed and walked, Mine That Bird couldn’t resist a bit of playful bucking as he was led around the shedrow. “It’ll take a good horse to beat him this Saturday,” jockey Calvin Borel said on Thursday, and I saw nothing today to make me doubt the rider’s words.

– Chip Woolley, who hasn’t followed his rider’s lead in making any bold predictions, was also looking well this morning, at ease with the media crowd and speaking confidently about tomorrow. “I got a great colt and he shows up every time,” said the trainer. “We’re ready.”

– Is it possible that Mine That Bird will go post not as the favorite? Or better than 2-1? In at least one poll, the Derby winner is tied with Charitable Man.

Early Wednesday Notes

Belmont week is upon us, and the next few days will be hectic for Calvin Borel, undisputed star of the media luncheon hosted by NYRA on Tuesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. A dense scrum of photographers and reporters formed around the jockey wherever he stopped in the room, and Borel obliged by answering every question with good humor and confidence. Not that there was any reason for the rider to do otherwise: Earlier, he’d continued his conquest of late night by taping a segment with David Letterman that’ll air on Friday; on Thursday, along with trainers Chip Woolley and Gary Contessa, he’ll ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Interest in the rider is so high that, as the Triple Crown season winds to end, he’s retained a consultant to help him sort endorsement offers and media requests.

Standing in the midst of recorders and microphones and cameras, Borel looked like a happy man, unfazed by the drama of the past five weeks, untroubled by the upcoming Belmont and the prospect of facing nine determined rivals and a long, tiring stretch. He was relishing his success, and he was — as he said with certainty several times — sure of his horse. “He’ll win.” Pressed, Borel pointed to Mine That Bird’s work on Monday. “He was kicking and bucking,” said the rider, who was aboard for the four furlong breeze. “He worked the same way as he did before the Derby.” Up on the podium, answering the question yet again, Borel invoked another sporting lyricist: “When he sings, he sings,” and reminded everyone of Mine That Bird’s late run. “He has such a turn of foot,” said Borel. “I’ll ask him to go with three-eighths left, and if he does that last eighth of a mile in :13, we’ll win the race.” Once again, the easy confidence, tempting all who listened to agree.

– Mine That Bird arrives at Belmont today and will gallop over the main track on Thursday and Friday, said Woolley, explaining that he didn’t bring the Derby winner to New York earlier because he “didn’t want him to be miserable.” According to Woolley, Mine That Bird “loves the Churchill surface,” and there was some concern he might not feel the same about Belmont. “The racetrack is very sandy, very deep,” said the trainer, allowing that might be a factor not in the gelding’s favor on Saturday.

– Odds and ends: Overheard, a reporter asking Mine That Bird co-owner Dr. Leonard Blach, “Why don’t you wear a black cowboy hat?” (Mark Allen kept his on through the event) … Rajiv Maragh feels good about his chances on longshot Brave Victory, third in the Peter Pan, and one of two expected to start for trainer Nick Zito. “The race is ideal for him … and his trainer has a history.” Dreams of Da’ Tara redux? “I think a win could help launch my career,” said the young NY-based rider riding in his first Belmont. I wished Maragh much luck … Dunkirk rider John Velazquez drew a big laugh when he said to the crowd, “I want to tell the riders: Stay on the rail,” but there was little joking about his words. Borel won’t have an easy trip on Saturday … Tim Ice said that Summer Bird has bulked up in recent weeks. “He’s put on 150 pounds since the Derby.”

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