Jim Wilson, the Oscar-winning producer that brought us "Dances With Wolves," tells the underdog story of Mine That Bird’s 2009 Kentucky Derby win in “50 to 1,” which opened in select Kentucky theaters last Friday. Wilson, along with writer Faith Conroy, actors Skeet Ulrich (“Scream,” Jericho), Christian Kane (Leverage, Friday Night Lights), and Todd Lowe (True Blood) spent the last five weeks promoting the film on a bus tour through seven states as the film was slowly rolled out to select theaters. With the limited release, it’s been difficult to find many people that have actually seen the film, so after wiping away the tears as I left the theater, I felt I should write up my review. Click here to read an interview I had with Ulrich about the film.
The film depicts the story of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird’s journey into the history books as the 50-1 longshot winner of Kentucky Derby 135. Ulrich plays trainer Chip Woolley, the lanky cowboy most will remember with the horseshoe mustache and black cowboy hat, who hobbled around Churchill Downs on crutches. Kane plays cowboy co-owner Mark Allen and Lowe plays his fun-loving cousin Kelly Denninton. William Devane (24) stars as the white-haired co-owner Leonard "Doc" Blach. Winning jockey Calvin Borel plays himself.
The film does of a good job of telling the backstory of the Mine That Bird team that most people, even those who closely follow racing, don’t know. It depicts a true underdog story that pulls viewers in and endears them to the characters, rooting them on even though they already know the outcome. The well-chosen cast mirrors their real-life counterparts, down to Ulrich’s unassuming, subtle drawl. “50 to 1” merges scenes and real race calls from Mine That Bird’s actual races, including the Kentucky Derby. It also shows the real footage of the heart-warming scene in which a teary-eyed Borel pays homage to his deceased parents as he guides Mine That Bird into the winner’s circle. Just as I believe Mine That Bird would not have won the Kentucky Derby without Borel as his pilot, "50 to 1" would not have rung so true without Borel.
For the most part, the film follows the unbelievable, but true story of Mine That Bird’s journey to Kentucky Derby victory, but adds a touch of Hollywood flair. Because the true story is really rather unbelievable, it’s made me curious to discover what is truth and what is Hollywood flair. Below are a few things I’ve been able to confirm through a perusal of archived news stories.