Lately, Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Ted Stevens have become the primary culprits in this new era of awareness and not always for reasons that are flattering to the state.
Just One Opinion is a national website; I’ve written two pieces here about Alaska since last December. In my defense, both pieces were about subjects with national implications: Sarah Palin and oil exploration in ANWR. I hadn’t intended to do another Alaska story right away, but this latest bit of news is just too good to pass up and it’s a national story with surprising Alaska connections.
You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up
Springtime in cold weather country is a time of discovery. During this time of the year Alaskans are spring cleaning – and there are always some things you can count on that will pop up when the snow melts.
Like the four bodies that were discovered in various places around Anchorage in recent weeks as residents clean up local parks and creeks in preparation for summer. The citizens of the city are not shocked because they know that this is a normal rite of spring in Alaska.
Another item of national interest with an Alaska connection has also popped up in the last couple of weeks and it is just too bizarre to ignore.
Two weeks ago, a relatively unknown gelding named “Mine That Bird” won the Kentucky Derby. It was an unbelievable, feel-good story: A 50-1 horse that few people had ever heard about is motored from New Mexico to Churchill Downs by an unknown trainer with a broken right leg in a plastic cast. Chip Wooley, the trainer and a former rodeo rider, drove the entire distance with his good left leg, making the 1500-mile cross-country journey to win the race and secure for himself a surprising place in the history of the most elite event in horse racing.
Mine That Bird wins at the 2009 Kentucky Derby
It all could have ended there, but with the Preakness coming up two weeks later, the fun was just beginning. Shortly after the Kentucky Derby, as more information about Mine That Bird began to surface, this story took more turns than Lombard Street.
For part of the time that Chip Woolley was pulling the trailer with Mine That Bird in it toward fame and fortune, he was being followed by motorcycles ridden by a fifty-six year old cowboy and his cousin. The cowboy, Marc Allen, is described as someone who walks with a cowboy’s gait, wears a black hat, and sports a scruffy gray beard – an “Easy Rider wannabe” on a cross-country adventure. Marc Allen, as it turns out, is also the co-owner of Mine That Bird along with Leonard Blach, a Roswell, New Mexico veterinarian.
So far this sounds like this is just going to be a warm, fuzzy tale about mavericks making good – but the real story is just beginning.
It also turns out that Marc Allen is the son of Bill Allen, the owner of Veco Corporation in Alaska. Bill Allen pleaded guilty to bribing Alaskan politicians and currying financial favors to Senator Ted Stevens. (Stevens was recently absolved of guilt in court.)
During the discovery of evidence against Bill Allen and Veco Corporation, information surfaced that indicated that his son, Marc Allen, had bribed a state legislator while working for Veco. As part of his eventual plea agreement, Bill Allen negotiated immunity for his son in exchange for his pleading guilty and providing information against an assortment of Alaska politicians.
In other words, if his father had not made a plea deal with the government, the co-owner of the Kentucky Derby winner could have been facing jail time rather than basking in the glow of being the owner of a now famous horse.
Our story continues…
Because of his love of horses, and using some of the proceeds from his approximately $30 Million share from the sale of Veco Corporation to CH2M Hill, Marc Allen paid for his half of the purchase price of $400,000 for Mine That Bird.
This cowpoke, who rode his Harley as he followed the trainer he’d met in a New Mexico bar fight twenty-five years earlier and the horse he’d bought with money that came from the sale of the infamous Veco Corporation in Alaska, was about to set the members of the horse racing world on their collective butts. With their surprising win at the Kentucky Derby under their belts, the Mine That Bird team was preparing to go to the Preakness.
Now we focus on the wily jockey who braved the rail to ride Mine That Bird to his unlikely Kentucky Derby win. Jockey Calvin Borel was now a two-time winner, having won the Kentucky Derby in 2007. Borel had a previous agreement to ride “Rachel Alexandra,” a filly, in the Preakness. Unlike Mine That Bird, Rachel Alexandra is a known winner and a horse that had recently been sold for $10 Million. Racing writers have referred to these two horses as “Lady and The Tramp,” and the experienced Borel knew that the filly had too much horse power for the new mutt. He wanted to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. What happened next was sort of…”Veco-like.”
Allegedly Marc Allen conspired with another horse owner to get two unworthy horses to fill empty slots in the Preakness so there wouldn’t be any room for the one horse that hadn’t signed up yet – Rachel Alexandra. Supposedly Marc wanted to make sure that jockey Borel was available to ride Mine That Bird. Some published stories suggested that Marc’s real interest was to keep Rachel Alexandra, a horse that would have been a strong favorite, out of the race – giving Mine That Bird a better chance of winning.
Another Alaskan connection appears…
John Hendrickson is a former long-time Alaskan and aide to Wally Hickel, a previous governor of Alaska and a former Secretary of the Interior under President Nixon. Hendrickson was married to wealthy socialite Marylou Whitney, a horse woman supreme. Marylou’s horse, Luv Guv (named after disgraced Governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer), was signed up to run in the Preakness. With the discovery of attempts to keep Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness, John Hendrickson announced that he would withdraw Luv Guv, if necessary, so that Rachel Alexandra would be able to compete in the Preakness.
When the dust settled, Rachel ran – and won. Mine That Bird came in second, validating the Allen team’s claim that he is a legitimate racehorse.
Rachel Alexander and Mine That Bird at the Preakness 2009
The obvious postscript is that the two horses will run against each other again in the Belmont Stakes. Television executives have to be loving that event after seeing the impact of the race of the sexes at the Preakness. [Update: These two horses did not compete against each other in the Belmont Stakes. Mine That Bird, again ridden by jockey Calvin Borel, finished in third place. Rachel Alexander was not entered in the race.]
However, what is not so obvious is that Mine That Bird’s sire is Birdstone – owned by Marylou Whitney. Every time Mine That Bird wins a big race, Birdstone becomes more valuable as a stud.
Marylou Whitney is a friend of Wally Hickel and Ted Stevens (who are also friends). Even though Mine That Bird’s loss at the Preakness hurts Birdstone’s stud value, it also hurt the son of the man who tried to bring Ted down.
Is all of this confusing and conflicted? To say the least. But life is never dull in the spring in Alaska. And you probably thought that all the big-time, sexy high-jinks only happened in places like New York and California.
The only one who has managed to stay out of this story is Sarah Palin – so far!
This article was originally published on May 27, 2009 at the news and commentary website JustOneOpinion.com. Please feel free to comment on this or any of my other articles.