Local Honored at Panhandle Hall of Fame
By Nathan French
Bennie L. “Chip” Woolley Jr. is a local who is an American Thoroughbred horse racing trainer best known for conditioning the 2009 winner of the Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird. One of the five children of Ann and Bennie Woolley, Sr., he grew up in Dalhart where his parents still reside. At age twenty he moved back to New Mexico to pursue a career in the horse racing industry.
An accomplished rider who often exercises his own horses, Chip Woolley has operated a public stable since 1991. Based at Sunland Park Racetrack in Sunland Park, New Mexico, he trains both Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds for flat racing.
In late 2008, the New Mexico racing partnership of Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach turned over a gelding named Mine That Bird to the care of Chip Woolley. The horse had won four straight races in Canada but ran last in the October 25th Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his debut for his new American owners. Making his debut for Woolley on February 28, 2009, Mine That Bird finished second in the Borderland Derby and on March 29 had a fourth-place finish in the Sunland Derby. However, based on his career earnings in graded stakes races, he qualified as one of the twenty Kentucky Derby starters. Trainer Chip Woolley loaded Mine That Bird into a horse trailer and drove 1,700 miles over 21 hours from New Mexico to get to the big race in time.
Under jockey Calvin Borel, Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby, instantly making Chip Woolley one of the most talked about racing personalities in America. The horse was then loaded into his trailer and driven by Woolley to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. Under jockey Mike Smith, Mine That Bird came from last through difficult traffic to earn a second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes. Following the race, Chip Woolley announced that the horse’s owners would be sending him to Belmont Park in Elmont, New York for the third leg of the U.S. Triple Crown series, the Belmont Stakes, where he placed third.
Through it all, “Chip” has remained true to his roots. Chip was selected as the 2010 recipient of the The Dick Risenhoover Award by the Panhandle Hall of Fame. The award is bestowed to individuals that have brought national or international recognition to this area. At Sunday’s 52nd Annual Presentation of Awards by the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame, Dean Kelley presented the award honoring Chip. Chip was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts with training of horses, but his cousin Jimmy Langden graciously represented him at the ceremony and shared words from Chip to the attendees. Chip’s parents were present at the ceremonys along with numerous friends and supporters.
Chips words rang true to that of a true Dalhartian. He stated that from “growing up in Dalhart I learned the value of hard work; and that with a lot of hard work, success can be achieved.” He credits his family and locals as his motivation for succeeding; “this is the first time in my life that I have been part of something so big, and my greatest joy is taking the Texas Panhandle on this journey with me.”
The Dick Risenhoover Award, while a great achievment in itself, merely serves as a token to just how far Chip has come. Achieving international recognition, while ever remembering where he came from and who got him there shows the true Chip. His notorioty may fade but I rest assured that with Chip’s abilities and intergrity he will always be a success.
The Dick Risenhoover Award is a very distinguished award, which was named after Dick Risenhoover, a Childress native, who became a national icon that brought attention to the Texas Panhandle. In 1957 Dick moved to Amarillo and worked at KGNC Radio and Television where he was the voice of the Gold Sox. He moved to Dallas in 1970 and immediately fell into Super Bowl coverage for the Dallas Cowboys. Later when the Texas Rangers moved to the Dallas area, he went on to the national network where he became the voice of the Texas Rangers. In 1974 Dick became the 31st honoree and the first sports caster installed into the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame.