Everyone loves an underdog, even when the "dog" is a horse.
The Kentucky Derby is inherently dramatic: with the trumpet calls to the gate, colorful hats and mint juleps, the silk-draped thoroughbreds and jockeys dashing out of the gates at the bell for what has long been known as the most exciting two minutes in sports. But the 2009 Derby was unforgettable, thanks to long shot Mine that Bird.
The horse that was reportedly purchased for less than $10,000 started the day with 50-to-1 odds and finished draped in roses, one of the biggest upsets in the history of the legendary race.
During the pre-race coverage, the horse was barely mentioned. In fact, his trainer was said to be the focus of jokes and even ridicule for having the audacity to enter Mine that Bird in the Derby.
But it took just a mile-and-a-quarter for Mine that Bird to make his critics eat crow, and remind us of why we love sports.
Sure, the race would have been interesting to watch if the betting favorite had run away from the field. But we are inspired when the little guy finishes first. As Mine that Bird fought his way through traffic and exploded away from his highly-touted counterparts, polite applause for the favorites crescendos to jumping-out-of-our seats joy. Like the Miracle on Ice or even the fictitious Rocky Balboa, Mine that Bird makes us believe in the impossible.
I have to admit that I had become a bit turned off from horse racing after some recent Triple Crown campaigns.
First was the agonizing, albeit touching story of Barbaro. The 2006 Kentucky Derby winner suffered a shattered leg just a couple of weeks after his triumph. Barbaro captured the heart of the world during his valiant battle against complications from the injury, and was mourned by millions when the champion was euthanized months later.
Then last year, Derby runner-up, Eight Bells was put down after suffering a breakdown at the end of the race. In a split second, the thrill of the derby can turn to tragedy.
We watch the slow-motion replays of horse races and see those powerful leg muscles under the shiny coats, and the thoroughbreds seem invincible, like they should have Greek gods or super heroes riding on their beefy backs. But all too quickly we are reminded that these amazing horses are just as fragile as they are powerful.
Perhaps that adds to the drama of the sport. Mine that Bird has written his own chapter of Kentucky Derby history and filled our hearts with hope.
If a horse at 50-to-1 odds can ride the rail to infamy, maybe anything is possible. Just maybe this is the underdog who can end the longest Triple Crown drought in history. Mine that Bird may be an underdog again in the Preakness Stakes, but he'll head down the stretch with the hope and imagination of millions riding with him.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.