Mine that Bird can fly this flag

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

No matter what Mike Weir does the rest of his life, he will always be known as the Canadian who won the Masters.

Paul Henderson understands that. He scored a goal and has spent the past 37 years being asked about it and asked about it and asked about it some more.

With Donovan Bailey, the two Saturday nights in Atlanta made him a Canadian figure for the ages.

And those who were around to witness Northern Dancer win the Kentucky Derby in record time, and follow that with a win in the Preakness, third-place at the Belmont and a career capper at the Queen's Plate, insist there never will be anything like him again.

These moments, from different sports and different eras, define us as Canadians. Define the fierce pride we take, as a small country population wise, in athletic accomplishment: Steve Nash as an MVP in the NBA. Justin Morneau and Larry Walker as MVPs in baseball. George Chuvalo fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world and Lennox Lewis winning it. Daniel Nestor celebrating gold in Australia and a championship at Wimbledon. Jacques Villeneuve taking the Indy 500.

So what are we supposed to think now of Mine That Bird, the almost Canadian 50-1 shot, last year's Sovereign Award winner, who didn't exactly come from nowhere to win the Derby on Saturday. He came from Highway 427 and Rexdale. He came from the barns of Woodbine.

The horse is, essentially, one of us.

Like Bailey or Nestor or Lewis, the horse was not born in Canada, just raised here, trained here, and wouldn't have been heard from if not for his Canadian owners, Canadian coaches, Canadian money.

If the Derby was an Olympic sport, Mine That Bird would have been wearing red and white.

He would be no less storied than Simon Whitfield, except we don't always view horse racing as something to grasp onto. We may wave the flag over Northern Dancer or Sunny's Halo or the harness horse, Cam Fella, who wasn't Canadian born, but there seems a reluctance to call the Derby win by Mine That Bird a Canadian victory.

And I'm not entirely sure why.

"How big is this for Canada?" Lou Cauz, the horse racing historian, repeated the question he was asked. "It's great for Dave Cotey, who trained him magnificently. It's a great story because if it isn't for Canada, if it isn't for the wins at Woodbine, he doesn't get in to the Derby. He wouldn't have had enough earnings to qualify.

"But is this Northern Dancer? It's not even close."

Cauz happened to be at a Kentucky Derby party on Saturday afternoon. The host of the party had purchased tickets on every horse in the race. When you went to get a drink, your glass came with your choice of ticket. The only glass that went unclaimed, and from this a regular Woodbine crowd, was the ticket on Mine That Bird.

Cotey, the trainer, didn't even bother to bet a buck or two on his old horse. The host of the party wound up with a winning ticket by accident. On Saturday, Mine That Bird was an afterthought, even to those who knew him best. By Saturday night, he was a stunning upset victor.

This should be part of the legacy, that makes this story all the more remarkable, but horse racing looks at nationalities differently than other sports. Nestor, born in Serbia, won Olympic gold for Canada. So did Lewis, born in England, who moved away and became heavyweight champ. But Mine That Bird, born in Kentucky, raised in Etobicoke, and later trained in New Mexico, can't run in the Queen's Plate. Doesn't qualify.

For me, the horse qualifies, not for the Plate, but for the Canadian history books. His story, when all the unlikely is taken out, isn't all that different from other past champions.

And it's funny, at last year's Sovereign Awards dinner two well-dressed women, who no one recognized, screamed like crazy when Mine That Bird was named two-year-old of the year. Somehow, they were connected to the owners. When asked what's next for the horse, they said "we're taking him to the Derby."

The horse people in tuxedos laughed at the optimistic women and their glee. Then. Just not now.


Videos

Photos