Saturday, June 6, 2009

Woolley Suddenly the Toast

Photo: EquiSport Photos/Matt Wooley

Article Excerpted from NEW YORK TIMES By JOE DRAPE
Published: June 5, 2009

It is about over — the autograph signings, ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and the shouts of “good luck” that have echoed across the streets of Manhattan and the foyers of this grand old racetrack on Long Island. Everyone knows Chip Woolley, the cowboy in the black hat, a cellphone ever pressed between his shoulder and ear as he pole-vaults along on crutches.

He is a horse trainer, an anonymous one only five weeks ago, before the first Saturday in May. Then, Mine That Bird shot through a sliver of a hole on the rail and into racing history as a Kentucky Derby winner.

Now, Woolley is sort of famous and his little gelding is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s 141st running of the Belmont Stakes. Both have blossomed over this whirlwind Triple Crown campaign.

When the public first met Woolley, he was put out when, in the wake of the second-biggest Derby upset, all anyone wanted to talk about was how he drove Mine That Bird from New Mexico to Churchill Downs.

Now, he can sound a little like the old television cowboy Sam McCloud.

“It’s a rather large place,” he said, when asked how he was enjoying his first visit to New York. “Everyone, apparently, their horns work very well here.”

Woolley can also be downright soulful. He has been broke more than once, has run at tracks where a $20 win bet could drop the odds of a runner from 8-1 to 5-2, and had stretches of futility during which the only way he could find the winner’s circle was with a map and a guest pass.

Ask him how winning the Kentucky Derby has changed his life.

“One thing it’s done is validate my career,” he said. “You spend 25 years and a lot of hard work and tough times to get to this point.”

Woolley’s parents were in town from Dalhart, Tex., on Friday. Bennie Woolley Sr. (Chip is really Bennie Jr.) wore a 10-gallon hat and refused to take credit for his son’s recent good fortune.

“All I taught was how to work hard, and love what you do,” Bennie Woolley said. “I’m just awful proud of him.”

There is no looking back for Woolley.

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