I just don’t get it

This is one of those days when I feel bewilderingly alienated.

All around me, people are excited about yesterday’s Derby. They’re loving that this longshot won, see it as a great moment for the sport, are digging his connections.

I just don’t get it.

I’m pretty psyched that one of the people with whom I watched the race hunch bet $2 across the board on Mine That Bird (and on Summer Bird, too), but that’s about it.

When Giacomo won a few years ago, he broke my heart because he beat Afleet Alex, but he deserved a grudging respect, even given his long odds, because he’d finished respectably in quality races, and

But Mine That Bird? Can anyone believe that yesterday was anything but the most monumental of flukes? That the import of this victory will be anything but ephemeral? It may have provided some exciting late-afternoon moments (though where, I’m not sure–I didn’t see any), but it’s impossible to believe that anything that happened on Sunday afternoon will have any significant implications for racing, and the behavior of Mine That Bird’s connections makes me hope that we will not for long be subject to them.

Calvin Borel’s usual—and by now old–over-the-top hot-dogging reaction coupled with the trainer’s initial surliness to a reporter made the post-Derby coverage virtually unwatchable. I keep hearing what a great guy Borel is, and I’m sure that’s true…but I just don’t take to histrionic reactions, and twice in two days was plenty, thank you. I’m happy for him, really I am, but I’d rather not have to see much more of it.

And enough, already, about a $9,500 horse winning the Kentucky Derby. He may have gone through the ring for $9,500, but his current owners paid $400,000 for him. Sure, that’s a bargain compared to Dunkirk’s $3.7 million purchase price, but hardly the sort of Stymie story that was making the rounds last night.

If I’m wrong about all this, and if Mine That Bird somehow figures in racing for the rest of the year—or even for the next few months–I’ll be the first to admit it, right here. But until then, I’m going to have a hard time seeing this year’s Derby as anything approaching important as we head towards summer racing.

OK, and one more thing…a few months ago, This Ones for Phil freaks and runs way beyond his previously-established ability, and the questions started. Granted, there had been a trainer change, and the horse’s new trainer carried with him a load of suspicious baggage. But still: the point is that in this sport, in the face of such dramatic improvements, the public wonders.

But not on Derby Day, when that improvement becomes a Cinderella, feel-good story. Let’s be clear: I am not suggesting that either of these horses won on anything except their own ability. What’s interesting to me is the willingness, on this #1 day of U.S. racing, for commentators of all kinds to put aside that healthy skepticism, and to embrace the Derby Dream, no matter how improbable it is.

I keep coming back and adding to this post, as further thoughts occur to me (the dangers of being home near the laptop on a rainy Sunday!), but I promise that I’ll stop, soon.

I actually love it when improbable longshots win–in the same way that I like when #8 seeds beat #1 seeds in playoffs. I root for the underdog, and unlike many folks last summer, I was psyched when Da’ Tara won the Belmont and when Frost Giant won the Suburban. It’s not Mine That Bird’s victory that has me overthinking today; a longshot won, great; some people cashed, most of us didn’t. I guess that I just don’t see the whole situation as somehow meaningful in the grand scheme of the sport, and it doesn’t seem all that interesting to me.

Having said that, and having written far too much about it this morning, with the exception of tomorrow’s final wrap-up of the Brooklyn Backstretch Road to the Roses charity league, I’m going to take my own advice and move on from the Derby,

I think. 😉

32 thoughts on “I just don’t get it

  1. I think this is one of those good for racing type results…had $3.7M Dunkirk won the race or if Godolphin has purchased it on the sly it would have been harder for me to take.50-1. I’ve never been more surprised at a race result. You’d think i’d have learned by now!Congrats to Lisa for winning the Road To the Roses pool!

  2. I was… confused. Totally, completely confused when Mine That Bird won. It was much akin to how I felt when Giacomo won (I was a HUGE Afleet Alex fan). I spun around, grabbed my program and was like, “Who the hell was #8???” Looks like Birdstone is going to be the producer of horses who, like him, suddenly come from out of nowhere to win races that they aren’t supposed to. (Smarty Jones was supposed to be the first Triple Crown winner of my lifetime, dang it!)I have to admit though, I was happy for Calvin Borel- it is nice to see someone get THAT excited over a race!Even though I think that if the track hadn’t been a swamp and the favorites hadn’t been banged up, and if so many good horses didn’t have to scratch due to injury… but such is the Derby.

  3. We must be fans of Tom Hanks in the movie “Big”.”uh, I don’t get it”…was the response in a Manhattan work meeting. It’s been over 20 years since that movie was made and I do believe it’ll be at least that long before someone figures out what happened yesterday in Louisville.

  4. Whew, was so glad to read your reaction to the Derby. It mirrors mine, and I was wondering if I was becoming a curmudgeon. I just think nice horse, nothing special, good ride, and I can also live without jockey histrionics. I hope for racing’s sake that I’m wrong, and he turns into the next Kelso or John Henry, but I didn’t look at that race and see greatness, just great racing luck.

  5. Read a blog somewhere by a guy who has a way to measure strides. He asys a horse ,rarely improve the distance per stride by 3 to 4 ft. thi si rare. Mine the bird somehow improved his stride by 9 feet. Unheard of he says

  6. After the Derby yesterday, after having spent a long time (hours, or more like days, or is it weeks) trying to figure out who would/could win the race, I thought I’m never going to bet the Derby again. It’s not a race that’s about finding the best horse. It’s a race about finding the luckiest horse. I think 20 horses in a field is too much. It’s dangerous and it just leads to wild outcomes like this. And, I am disappointed I took a long shot bet on Summer Bird (I wanted to bet a bird horse. Liked Birdstone and I went with the name I liked better. What is Mine that Bird mean anyway?), though my main choice was Friesan Fire. But, all that said, looking over the PPs, Mine That Bird was good in Canada. He may be a better runner here on the East Coast than in New Mexico. I know I certainly would be.

  7. I am so relieved to discover that I’m not the only cynic out there–I am a big believer in the romance of horse racing, but I can’t buy into this one. Thanks for making me feel less alone!

  8. $10 says that if the most monumental of flukes yesterday was Zito’s horse that you’d be waxing nostalgic too, no? I love seeing a relatively inexpensive gelding out of nowhere stick it to those who view the TC as a function of the “sales process”. With that in mind, yay MTB!On the other hand, I agree re: Borel. His “aw shucks” veneer in combo with extreme hot dogging doesn’t sit well me either. I hear he’s a stand-up guy and am sure he is, but I don’t stick around to watch any kind of interviews or winner’s circle jazz when he’s aboard.

  9. You’re right, Dana, and a lot of that has to do with the reactions of the connections. I didn’t get really turned off until the Borel Show started, and when Woolley was positively rude and unpleasant to the interviewer after the race. And if Nowhere To Run had won, I would have had the same thought within the sixty seconds after the race that I did yesterday: No Triple Crown this year! (Preceded by glee that I was going to cash a huge ticket!)

  10. I hated the result,and I can’t see any angle for playing him. The horse had no business in the race. I’m beginning to think that graded earnings as a qualifier for the race are a joke, too. I mean this horse had $300,000+ in graded earnings, all from his 2YO season, and he finished dead last in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile.How is that even possible? And so much for Beyer speed figures,pace analysis,dosage #’s or any of that crap. All in all, that was not a feel-good result as for as I’m concerned.

  11. I do think your comments regarding Mine That Bird’s connections are pretty mean spirited and snotty– to say the least. I didn’t find the trainer’s behavior rude, he seemed genuinely stunned at the moment, and probably unaccustomed to having a cameraand mic thrust into his face. I don’t blame him for rushing off to greet his approaching horse. He seem genuinely stunned.

  12. Oh honey, you need a cocktail. They came, they played by the rules and they won, unfortunately sometimes it is that simple. It probably isn’t a Derby for the ages but I’d rather watch the surliness and histrionics than watch Tabor or Sheik Mo, Mr. Pletcher or St. Larry up there.It’s life, pimples and all; I like it!

  13. What happened to all of my kindred spirits?!Anon 3:39: as mean-spirited and snotty as being critical without putting your name to your remarks? John, given all of our differences of opinion, I’m beginning to wonder how you and I get along at all!Excellent point about the alternatives…

  14. Agree with you about the Derby—flukey and forgettable. If the Bird can perform that way one more time, I’ll reconsider. I really like Calvin Borel, He’s not hurting anybody, he’s having fun.Having said that, I was wrong 5,600 times yesterday.

  15. I think good stories are aplenty with the jock, trainer and owners of Mine That Bird. We don’t need make believe stories about 21 straight hour drives and broken down pickup trucks, real life almost always trumps make believe. The horse broke from the gate along with everyone else and was wildly impressive winning that race. This is a May foal who is just finding himself. I can’t explain why the horse called Mine That Bird on the PPs doesn’t even remotely resemble the horse that ran yesterday, but funny things happen on the way to the Forum. I watched the race with family, and it was refreshing for all of us to see real people reacting with such emotion and passion. I loved seeing the horse nobody thought could win, win, but not just win. Decimate. Good Stuff Brooklyn Backstretch, we must agree to disagree on this issue.

  16. As dumbfounded as I (and everyone else) was with the result, what I did enjoy was that today, the connections of Mine That Bird placed his blanket of roses on the rail of the new, beautiful Barbaro statue and then spent 1 1/2 hours giving them away one by one, to fans who happened by.

  17. You want some more cynicism, how about this: Who the hell wears jeans to saddle a horse in the Derby?! Very low class.However, I still found it considerably easier to swallow than a victory by Godolphin, IEAH or Pletcher would have been.Seeing as how this horse has less chance to win the Preakness than any Derby winner since Grindstone (who didn’t run), the Triple Crown season is now over before it has started. What a drag.

  18. Long time reader, enjoy your blog immensely! So I hope you won’t take it against me when I say that I completely disagree with you about Calvin Borel at the very least. Yes, it’s over the top, but I think it’s refreshing and completely endearing. He had a huge weekend, and the emotion in his voice was 100 times better than watching slick IEAH pat themselves on the back. I had six others watching the Derby with me, only one of whom who could be called a handicapper (who, with me, was as dumbfounded as everyone else seems to be) and their reactions to his “histrionic reactions” was a beautiful thing to watch. They wanted to know all about him, if he had won the Derby before, what horse he rode, etc. That led to the two race fans in the room telling them about the Oaks and watching old horse races on YouTube. At least two went home and learned more about him on their own. I was asked when we could go to the track and if we were getting together in two weeks to watch the Preakness. I was again cursing my lack of a cable package that included racing channels when they were clamoring for more after-race coverage. And if Borel’s reaction can illicit such a response from people who on any other day just humor their crazy racing fan friend then I only have one thing to say: bring it on. 🙂 Now, the way obvious looking back and forth back and forth coming down the stretch, that I could do without. Save the celebrating for when you hit the wire.

  19. Well, I respectfully disagree as well (long time lurker). If you heard all the pre-race condescending questions from the media re: his trailer ride and whether the trainer though MTB deserved to be there etc. They made him out to be the biggest hick (and he might well be) but it still came across obnoxious. So he did the walk in crutches to the paddock and when the race was over he was stumbling on those crutches to the winner’s circle and the stupid reporter asked AGAIN about the darn trailer. And then asked “so are you going to fly home now.” My goodness! I would have been quite annoyed myself. I think people need to cut the trainer a break. Also, I don’t like the over the top showboating before the wire either…but the pure joy and elation from Calvin cannot be beat. The first words out of his mouth were how he wished his parents could see what he has accomplished in life. I’m a native New Englander and as cynical as they come, but I thought Calvin’s “antics” were touching, full of pure raw emotion and the “cowboy” trainer needs to be cut some slack.(yes that co-owner is mighty shady but he is hardly the only owner in history to be shady…in recent memory Midnight Cry comes to mind!)

  20. Thanks, everyone, for all the comments! It’s great to hear from people who have a different perspective on the race, especially those who have commented for the first time. Welcome!And you are all chipping away at my cyncism…I’m not all the way there with you yet…but you make some mighty persuasive points!

  21. I always look at the Derby as a weird race-where else in the US do you get a dirt race with 18-20 horses in it? It is designed for weird turnouts. Like you, I did not care for the trainer of MTB, but I disagree on Borel-when he was up in Saratoga in ’07 he spent tons of time signing autographs for the kids and talking to folks in the Spa Backyard- I find Borel’s excitement fun-he won, he knows how to race and too me it seems genuine.

  22. I disagree on Calvin Borel, he is very genuine and endearing. There is nothing wrong with the strait shooting trainer who got sick of the reporters patronizing him and his van ride and had the grit to say something about it. I thought it was an interesting derby. Sort of like making plans to go to yet another movie. Then at the last minute you get diverted into a country western bar by a guy in a dark jacket and big black hat. Instead of getting bored to tears by another Hollywood formula film you end up getting drunk on Woodpecker (not too many, mine that bird)Cider and learn how to two-step. It was a surprise but fun ending.

  23. I second SaratogaSpa’s comments about Calvin at Saratoga. I saw him there too in ’07 and he was one of the VERY few jocks who took the time to say hi, pose for pictures or sign autographs.

  24. April in the UK-Mon Mome comes home a 100/1 winner.We poke fun an laugh, some dream of finding a little birdie with the golden egg. Make the hit of a lifetime-I guess the only ones who made the hit were Calvin’s buddies wagering on a friend and some friends of the connections—Someone should have told the Breeder the horse was in the Derby mabye they would have went and maybe cashed in?Hopefully Bob N from this area whom collasped on Oak Day is ok–Then I say put a name on the Chapter and turn the page to (what awaits)

  25. I'm a little surprised how many people on the internet are thinking larceny on this one. One of the things I try to do after the Derby, after the Breeders Cup, is a little hindsight handicapping, especially when you're on record as saying the winner would need a motorcycle and a head start to win.Look, the gelding was juvenile champ in Canada, ran in the BC Juvenile for Dick Mandella (I think you even see him on the show Jockeys since Chantal rode), got a nice layoff, didn't run well the next two (both at altitude) but still improved on the Beyer numbers and the Thorograph figs. Thorograph wrote this about him in the analysis which came with their figs: "relatively slow at two, finally moved forward last time. There's nothing wrong with that pattern, and with rest he has a good chance to run a new top now." The sire was a late developer who won G1s at 10f and 12f, and the damsire was Curlin and English Channel's sire. There's tons of stamina in that pedigree.The pace was a ridiculous 22 & 4 for the opening qtr, and he's saving ground in an easy 27 or so. He got far and away the best ride for this race by one of the only 7 Derby winning jocks who are still active. If Borel had given that ride to one of the more well known deep closers, say Hold Me Back, who wasn't held back at all by Kent D, that horse would have won by daylight too. Incidentally, Calvin's the only active Derby winning jock who rides regularly at CD.Look, PoTN ran a 95 Beyer, right to his normal numbers, and that 95 was only a modest bounce for MM and PC. MTB ran a 105, tied for second lowest Beyer in the time DRF's been publishing, but that's enough to win when no one in the field has hit par.Let's also consider the horses who scratched or dropped out late: Quality Road and I Want Revenge had both hit Derby par with 113 Beyers. Win Willy would have had a great shot here after bouncing in his last, a deep closer who had posted a triple digit Beyer. Square Eddie was another off the pace runner.It's not like we've never seen a 3yo figure out this game in the 3rd start off a layoff, or freak in the mud. It's just that no one else in this scratch decimated-field improved on Saturday.He's not logical, but he is improbable. And with a 19 horse field, slop, new surfaces for some, a new distance for all, the horse who got the best ride won.In two weeks, it'll be different horses, different pace scenario, different track configuration and hopefully better weather. Probably we'll see a different result, but I can't tell you that absolutely. After all, Charismatic ran back from a 33/1 bomb and won in Baltimore, too.And as for insignificant, no. Like Giacomo, he will reinforce the "ya gotta be in it to win it" mentality and ensure that barring late scratches, you'll be seeing full 20 horse fields for the forseeable future. In addition, like Giacomo, he will continue the pattern of depressed odds for longshots in this race.In the end, some days in this game, you've just got to say, I wouldn't have caught that one, try not to change your handicapping to chase every longshot like that next time.

  26. Mine That Bird is a small-made horse who has plenty of stamina in his pedigree and really did appear to “skip” over the heavy going while kept off a fairly fast pace for the track conditions; he saved plenty of ground, ran on the best part of the track, and got a great ride; if he were a turf horse, he’d be the kind that prefers yielding going that creates a real test of stamina.no way to pick him before the race; can make a little sense of it after the fact.

  27. You know folks, the Kentucky Derby is either an important race or it is not.Fluke or not, the fact is that Mine That Bird and Calvin Borel beat the best horses ( at least the ones that weren’t so inbred that they were too crippled to run) and they beat them fair and square.Fluke or not, if you don’t respect what they accomplished in the Derby, you have no right to respect what ANY horse does in the Derby.Maybe this horse will never win another another race, but he won THIS one,. and that’s more than any of those so-called “quality” horses and their jockey’s was able to do.

  28. I read this post the other day and decided not to leave a comment because of my different perspective, but maybe I’m brave enough now. 🙂 I’m not a handicapper – I’m a horse person, and a Woodbine-based one at that. Friends of mine broke this horse; Dave Cotey is a well-liked local. To me that horse winning, fluke or no, was the epitome of what this game is about: anything can happen. That’s what keeps a lot of people in the sport going.I too was annoyed with Borel’s overdone excitement, but again because I’m about the horses, and he was freaking the horse out with his flailing arms, etc! The trainer I didn’t find the least bit offensive; in fact I thought he was classy, jeans or not, for giving Cotey credit for developing the horse. If it had been me I probably would have taken the annoying reporters out with my crutches, so I thought he showed great restraint! ;-)I don’t think Mine That Bird will with the Triple Crown either, but if but some strange stretch of the imagination all the planets line up in some unprecedented configuration and he does,I’ll take it.

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