Skeet Ulrich: an interview with the star of the Mind That Bird story, '50 to 1'

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In promotion of the film “50 to 1,” actor Skeet Ulrich, along with producer Jim Wilson, writer Faith Conroy, and actor Todd Lowe (who plays Kelly Denninton), rode into town Thursday on a tour bus bedecked in scenes from the movie. They joined real-life trainer Chip Woolley and owners Mark Allen and Leonard “Doc” Blach for a meet-and-greet with fans at the Kentucky Derby Museum in support of the film’s release in Kentucky theaters Friday, Apr. 18. Click here to read my review of the film.

“50 to 1” depicts the unbelievable underdog tale of an unlikely Kentucky Derby winner, longshot Mine That Bird. Mine That Bird, off at odds of 50-1, was barely given a mention in the press in the weeks leading up to the 2009 Kentucky Derby. When he sneaked up the rail under jockey Calvin Borel to win Kentucky Derby 135, fans were clamoring for their programs to see just who this horse was.

Ulrich, who’s known for such works as “Scream” and “Jericho,” plays trainer Chip Woolley. Most may remember Woolley as the tall guy with the horseshoe mustache and black cowboy hat that hobbled to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle on crutches. I had a chance to talk one-on-one with Ulrich about his work on the film, Kentucky Derby, and more.

JO:  You said previously that you weren’t familiar with the Mine That Bird story.  What did you think after you heard the details of the story?

SU:  The first details I got were from the script and I thought, ‘there’s no way’ and upon further research, I was blown away at not only the accuracy of the script, but the amazing nature of the story. Chip [Woolley], Mark [Allen] and Doc [Blach]’s journey to get Mine That Bird, to bring him here [Churchill Downs] and how they were somewhat ostracized and ignored and that they really got the last laugh. Not to mention the heartbreaking piece of Calvin [Borel], his ode to his parents as he rode into victory lane. I was blown away by all of it. All the pieces of it.

JO: Did you go back and watch videos of Mine That Bird’s races?

SU: No. Well, I watched all of the ones we depicted, so I kind of knew what was going on when we would go to film it…from the Sunland Derby and Santa Anita. I watched as many as were available.

JO: So many racing related movies have been made well after the event occurred, so people couldn’t go back and pull up a video of the actual event. How was it to portray someone already publicly known and who’s standing there watching you do it?

SU: It’s a challenge. He, from the start, knew it was a movie. It’s definitely a challenge. You want to make sure you do your best to portray the truth of his heart, his feelings, his thoughts, the emotions that go into his life and to what he does on a day-to-day basis. I figured out his physicality pretty quick, his voice took a while to come to and took a lot of trial and error to get it somewhat close. A lot of people close to Mark have said that I got him really good, so I’ll stand by that.

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