Most people don't get to meet a Kentucky Derby winner, let alone pet one before watching a movie about him.

But Mine That Bird, the unlikely winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby in 2009, was at a local theater Wednesday night to help raise money for a horse-riding program that helps wounded soldiers.

"It's an event of a lifetime for people who love horses," said Billy Jack Barrett, who helped organize the fundraiser.

The horse, who was a 50-to-1 long shot on Derby day, won more than $2 million in his three-year racing career.

Mine That Bird has been making stops around the country to promote the film inspired by his feat, "50 to 1."

He and one of his owners, Mark Allen, stopped in Colorado Springs for an event that raised $2,400 for the U.S. Air Force Academy Equestrian Center's Warrior Wellness Program.

The fundraiser included a private screening of the movie at Cinemark 16, a VIP reception at the Wobbly Olive, and pictures with the Kentucky Derby winner.

Mine That Bird, who is staying at the academy's stables, arrived in town Monday to help promote the program, which provides therapy through horseback riding to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other mental, physical and emotional injuries resulting from their service. The program also provides horseback rides for family members of soldiers killed in action.

Air Force leaders believe it is potentially one of the best suicide-prevention programs available, said Barrett, who is playing host to Mine That Bird.

"Quite a few soldiers have attributed this program to saving their lives and helping their spouses and families heal," he said.

Barrett is friends with Allen and was part of the effort to have the movie brought to Colorado Springs for the fundraiser.

Dozens of people clad in cowboy hats and boots lined up to take pictures of the American thoroughbred before the 7 p.m. screening.

Mine That Bird's trophy was on display in the Wobbly Olive during the reception.

The horse will make appearances throughout the city this week. On Thursday Mine That Bird will be on the patch of grass outside the theater for a second private screening of the movie. On Friday he'll greet visitors at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

Football fans can also catch him on the field during the Air Force Academy's first football game of the season Saturday.

Cadets are thrilled to have a star in their presence, Barrett said.


Contact Lisa Walton: 476-1623

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