Chip Woolley, Trainer of Kentucky Derby Winner, Mine That Bird
By Judi Wiegman
Saturday, shortly after 6pm, horse number eight, Mine That Bird, came from behind under unbelievable odds, to win the most sought after race in American horseracing; the 135th Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr., a Dalhart native was “blown away” at the performance of the horse and the jockey, Calvin Borel, who made him famous.
Woolley, 45, who grew up in Dalhart, did not set out to train race horses. Chip was a bareback rodeo rider in college when he injured his shoulder. That injury actually led him to his chosen career.
Just thirteen days ago, undaunted by the plate and screws in his leg, a result of a recent motorcycle accident, Chip drove 21 hours from New Mexico with the $9,500 horse in a trailer headed for Churchill Downs. Today he tossed down the crutches as he embraced the jockey in the winner’s circle.
The decision to race Mine That Bird was not made until Thursday of this past week. At that time, the owners, Mark Allen, Dr. Leonard Blach and Trainer Chip Woolley weighed the options and decided this was their one shot at the Derby and decided to take a chance.
The gelding, just less than three years old, was ridden by Calvin Borel, a second time jockey winner in the Derby. The horse was dead last with 50-1 odds. The win was the second biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history. The payoff was $103.20 on a $2.00 bet to win. Mine That Bird ran the muddy, mile and a quarter track in 2:02.66 with six and three quarter’s lengths to win the race.
Emotion ran high as the winners lifted the gold cup high in the air. Leonard Blach remarked “That was our plan; come out of the gate, stay with the bunch and be in front at the end.” While Mark Allen admitted “I was going to be happy just to light the board. It was a surprise to me.”
This was the trainer’s first experience at Churchill Downs. Until today, he was an unknown in horseracing. In just over two minutes, his life changed forever. Peering out of dark sunglasses beneath a black cowboy hat, Chip Woolley remarked, “They’ll know who I am now.”
Chip Woolley, who graduated from Dalhart High School in 1982, is the son of Anne and Bennie Woolley Sr., who reside in Dalhart.