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The Underdog

50 to 1 Opens in Omaha July 25
By Kyle Eustice

50 to 1,
July 25, at Majestic Cinema, 14304 W Maple Rd.,
First Showing at 9 a.m. Ticket prices vary.
Visit www.marcustheatres.com for more information.

While the name Jim Wilson might not ring a bell at first, mention the movie Dances with Wolves and you’ll figure out the connection. Wilson produced the Oscar-winning film, which garnered actor/director Kevin Costner a few golden statues and earned Wilson one for production. Filming lasted for six months in South Dakota and it’s where Wilson fell in love with horses.
“I was always privy to horses,” Wilson says. “I’d been on a horse a couple of times. It wasn’t until I was in South Dakota making Dances with Wolves that I would see horses and I had to procure them. I had to get 200 or 300 together and learn about all kinds of horses. After I was subjected to that for six or seven months, it got under my skin. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized the preciousness of that animal.”
It makes perfect sense that Wilson’s new film revolves around a horse. Titled 50 to 1, the flim is about Kentucky Derby racehorse Mine That Bird and his misfit New Mexico trainer and owners who shocked the racing world in 2009 with one of the most remarkable come-from-behind victories in Derby history. The movie stars Skeet Ulrich, Christian Kane, William Devane, Todd Lowe, newcomer Madelyn Deutch and Hall of Fame jockey, Calvin Borel, who plays himself in the film. The release of the film has been quite unique. The cast and filmmakers traveled cross-country for five weeks on a tour bus, promoting the film from New Mexico to Kentucky as the film opened in those first seven states. The tour and the movie’s release were designed to mirror the trip Mine That Bird took with his trainer Chip Woolley to the Derby. Not only was Bird the longest shot on the board at the Derby, the cowboys were also complete fish out of water when they arrived in the land of Kentucky’s blue bloods, much like the owners of this year’s Derby winner, California Chrome, who also ran for the Triple Crown. They became the ultimate underdogs at Churchill Downs and stole the hearts of millions of people throughout the world in the process.
“I like being outdoors and being around animals,” he says. It was a 40-day shoot and we did a lot of traveling so I don’t mind that. “I’m a horse owner and horse racing fan. I’ve raised horses for 25 years. I’ve kept my eyes and ears to the ground looking for a great story. I’ve read a lot of screenplays over the years on horseracing and horse-related stuff. Just in watching the 2009 Kentucky Derby at home, I was stunned by, and I really was, that visual. The race was so stunning. Directors look at things that are visual. You couldn’t make that up. Based on that, I wanted to go down to New Mexico to meet the owner, trainer and horse. I wanted to see what it was all about. It would be one thing if the horse was a 9 to 5 favorite, but this horse was 50 to 1. Obviously, everyone threw it out and thought he didn’t have a chance. I’m kind of a sucker for underdog stories any way. I heard this horse was a real character, too, so I went down to meet him.”
Wilson went down to Roswell, New Mexico to spend time with trainer Chip Wooley. It was there he was really able to get a feel for what he was all about; how they lived, what kind of people they were and what kind of environment the horse was around. He fell in love with it all.
“I really love these guys,” he says. “They wear their hearts on their sleeve and there’s no falseness with them. Everything they say is what it is. They told me their story and I thought it was worth making. Not many people would have taken their horse, given its condition and take it to Kentucky to race with the blue bloods. I kind of like movies about class anyway and this was definitely kind of like a class system. Those are fun, too.
“Even these guys were also 50 to 1,” he continues. “They were the black hat cowboys from the West that nobody had heard of. Even to get invited to their own party in Kentucky was hard. They didn’t let them in initially because they weren’t in the right dress. So it’s like a fish out of water. That’s fun too. It makes the victory more enjoyable when you solve those problems.”
The film was made for a good deal less than Dances with Wolves, yet with a smaller budget, they were still able to capture the beauty of the New Mexican landscape and tell an incredible story. The magic of the tale is Mine That Bird’s victory in the face of doubt. The owners bought him in Canada and upon first glance knew he was small. In fact, he weighed less than 1,000 lbs.
“He was a little off on the left-hand side,” he explains. “I’ve bought and sold horses, and I never would have given this one a second look so I give them credit. It’s simple to say follow your dreams, but these guys did. They were so set on getting to the Derby. That’s the Holy Grail. A lot of people wouldn’t have taken this trip, but they qualified and were invited so they went. A lot of people scoffed at them in New Mexico and when they showed up nobody wanted to interview them, but they persisted and kept going and look where they ended up. They know what they got. They got the right horse on the right day and he never ran a better race since then.”
Mine That Bird is back home in Roswell, New Mexico where he eats peppermints every day and has a slew of visitors from all over the world. Wilson isn’t looking for Oscars, necessarily; he just wants people to show up so he can hear Mine That Bird’s unbelievable story.
“You make a film, put it out there and for me it’s nothing more than trying to get as many people to a theatre so they can experience your art and what you think is joyful,” he says. “You hope not to lose your ass financially doing it though. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t. Omaha’s a great place to show it. The owner’s brother lives there. Millard Blach and Millard is so excited it’s playing in Omaha so I know he’ll be there with a contingency of Blach folks.”

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