Today I watched as a misfit group of New Mexico cowboys find themselves on the journey of a lifetime when their crooked-footed racehorse qualifies for the Kentucky Derby. Based on the inspiring true story of Mine That Bird, the cowboys in the movie “50 To 1” face a series of mishaps on their way to Churchill Downs, becoming the ultimate underdogs in a final showdown with the world’s racing elite.
I was really excited about this movie because I enjoy horses and watching the Kentucky Derby each year. I’ve actually visited Churchill Downs and remember Mine That Bird’s winning race. Therefore, I knew the odds of Mine That Bird winning, and how jockey Calvin Borel hugged the rail to stun the crowd and the race announcer.
This movie, though, is much more than just about a horse with long odds winning the Kentucky Derby. “50 to 1” is the story of a rather eclectic group of cowboys, trainers, and ranch owners who marshaled their talents and surprised themselves and race fans. The movie is about friendship and hope also highlights the beauty of the hot dusty deserts, with a backdrop of blue-gray mountain ranges and bronze-colored mesas.
When the director got permission to shoot at Churchill Downs, they ended up shooting in over 20 locations, including the actual jockeys’ room, the barn, and the stall where Mine That Bird was housed. In fact, the jockey of the winning horse, Calvin Borel played himself in the film.
I particularly appreciated the fact that Borel even brought his own tack for use with the horse. He helped with the design of the set of the jockeys’ room. And of course, on the horse, he naturally fell right into riding as he did in the 2009 Derby (though footage from the actually Derby was incorporated into the film.) Mine That Bird’s owners Chip Woolley and Mark Allen were on the set quite a bit, ensuring authenticity. Mark even loaned Harley motorcycles so the actors could ride from New Mexico to Churchill Downs as the cousins Mark and Kelly actually did. And, Chip loaned Ulrich the shirt he wore on Derby Day, which you see in photos during the credits.
The open-hearted character of the cowboys comes through in the genuine friendships that build in the story. When in Churchill Downs, Chip, Mark, Alex, Doc, and his family ignore the snubs of the blue bloods of the horse-racing world. They simply have a good time. The friendship between Mark and Chip is honest, so much so I know cowboys aren’t my type, but that’s another story. This film is filled with humor and hope. “50 To 1” doesn’t have the big names or character development of “Secretariat” but you will still cheer or cry at the spectacular victory of this very special horse that won in spite of its owners.
They worked hard to get this movie made and I recommend it as a feel-good, true story for all age groups and families to enjoy.