Welcome back to Horse Madness II, the quest for racing’s greatest Cinderella. Ironically, the bracket of upsets has been dominated by chalk, with all favorites advancing to the Elite 8. Some great matchups ahead, ripe with opportunities for upsets, so stayed tuned…
Today we have an epic matchup of huge upsetters in America’s two biggest races — the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup classic. One of our longshot contestants drove in the back of a van from Arizona to the Bluegrass of Kentucky, with a trainer who had a broken leg that seemed to take years to heal. Our other contestant was an unknown European invader who traveled from France all the way to Santa Anita in order to take on the world’s best over a dirt surface he had never tried before. Which upset was more impressive? Who will be moving on to the 2016 Horse Madness Final Four? You be the judge…
Mine That Bird
Mine That Bird was purchased for $9,500 as a yearling. The gelding began his career in Canada where he won four of six starts and was named Canada’s two year old colt of the year. However, MTB’s form did not translate south of the border when he shipped to the States. After a last place finish in the Breeders Cup Juvenile for Richard Mandella, MTB was transferred to the barn of obscure trainer Chip Woolley. The results that followed did not forecast Derby glory–a second and fourth place finish in two ungraded stakes in New Mexico. However, Bird’s graded stakes winnings were sufficient to earn him a spot in the Derby starting gate. So the journey began with the now famous 2,100 mile drive across the US, with Chip Woolley, crutches and all, hauling Bird in a trailer behind his pickup truck.
The 2009 Derby was a relatively open affair after the scratch of morning line favorite I Want Revenge. Pioneer of the Nile, more on his legacy below, was the lukewarm chalk while MTB was 50-1. And as the field turned for home, Pioneer had the lead over a very game (and Thorobros backed) Musket Man. Then the unthinkable happened. The sea parted, giving Calvin Borel a clear path on a rail that had been golden all day. MTB exploded from the back of the back with a move so rapid, that Durkin missed him until he was three lengths clear. He splashed home to win by six and half lengths. An amazing upset and an unbelievable story. The Bird would never win again, but it didn’t matter. His spot in history was cemented during his epic 2009 road trip.
In the normal race, horses at 133/1 are complete misfits, dismissed as nearly impossible. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine that a horse ridden by Jerry Bailey and trained by Fabre could offer those odds under any circumstances. One thing that is so interesting about this particular upset is that, as I reviewed the past performances and the race chart, I could envision myself betting on Arcangues simply as a value proposition (I know, I know, very easy to say 23 years after the race). Nevertheless, the bettors at Santa Anita gave the horse absolutely no chance. Luckily, nobody told Arcangues that he had no chance. He raced like he was the favorite, settling in behind Bertrando and then spurting through a small opening (Bailey was a master) to hit the front in mid-stretch and hitting the wire with a driving win. He paid a cool $269 for $2 to win, and the $2 exacta paid $1,015. The field that Arcangues beat was a solid one, featuring Colonial Affair, Bet Pal and Kissin Kris, in addition to the aforementioned Bertrando – but it’s not a field that jumps off the page as the saltiest renewal of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Additionally, the Classic did not feature the star of that year’s Breeders’ Cup – that was undoubtedly Lure. But any way you slice it, Arcangues’ win was unbelievably memorable and one of the biggest upsets in racing history.