Issaquah woman shares in Kentucky Derby history

Serena Blach’s shoes are caked in mud. But, don’t think for a second she’s going to wash them — now, or ever.

Serena Blach’s shoes are caked in mud.

But, don’t think for a second she’s going to wash them — now, or ever.

The black Anne Klein heels will forever be a piece of memorabilia the Issaquah resident brought home after her father’s horse, Mine That Bird, pulled off the second-biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history earlier this month.

On May 2, the Roswell, New Mexico-based horse won the 135th running of the Derby as a 50-1 long-shot, paying out $103.20 on a $2 bet.

In 1913, Donerail had the largest payout at $189.40.

Mine That Bird, and jockey Calvin Borel, moved even deeper in Derby history after winning by 6 3/4 lengths — the largest margin of victory since Assault won by 8 lengths in 1946.

“It was incredible,” said Blach, who watched the race from a box seat at Churchhill Downs with her father, mother, brother and sister.

Her father, Dr. Leonard Blach, co-owns Mine That Bird with Mark Allen.

At 74, the equine veterinarian has been involved with horses for nearly his entire life, entering the world of racing in the early ‘70s. He never had a horse in the Kentucky Derby prior to this year.

“He’s won some pretty big races with other horses that he’s had, but this is the crown and glory for any horseman,” said Serena, who lives in the Klahanie neighborhood, and has resided in Issaquah since 1983.

The Kentucky Derby experience provided Serena memories she will never forget, including taking “the walk” from the barn to the saddle paddock.

“There was over 153,000 people at that race, it was televised into 97 countries and a billion people watched it,” she said. “And then I live in Issaquah, it was just wild.”

Admittedly, her most memorable experience came 2 minutes, 2.66 seconds into the race when Mine That Bird crossed the finish line uncontested.

“We studied all the horses and we figured that there were six other horses that had odds as bad as ours,” Serena said, laughing. “We just wanted to be able to run with the pack. There were another eight that were 20-1 and 30-1, and then you have the upper echelon. So, we just thought ‘OK, so that’s 14 all together, so if we can just run in that 14 we’re going to be thrilled.’”

When Mine That Bird got squished to the back of the pack at the start of the race, Serena and her family anticipated the worst.

“By the time they went around that first turn he was really, really far behind,” she said. “At that point, I was standing on a chair with my sister … when I saw how far behind he was I got off my chair, and my heart went to the pit of my stomach.”

Mine That Bird, and the rest of the pack, then disappeared behind tents in the infield. When they reappeared, Serena and her family members looked to the back of the pack — but saw nothing. There were thoughts he might have broken down in the back of the field, until Serena heard her brother yell “He’s making a move.”

“Our eyes just kept moving up and by the time I saw where he was, he was two links ahead of everybody,” Serena said. “Right then, I swear my brain just stopped. I’ve never in my life had such a surreal thing. I turned around and looked to my family to get confirmation. When I looked my brother was on his knees and pumping his fists and screaming. Then I looked over to my dad and he had his hands on the rails and his eyes were as big as saucers, then I knew it was true.”

While the experience might be impossible to duplicate, there is hope the magic can continue this weekend at the Preakness — the second leg of the Triple Crown. Mine That Bird, a once 50-1 long-shot, enters the Preakness with 7-2 odds. Only Rachel Alexandria, ironically the horse jockey Calvin Borel will ride this time around, has lower odds at 3-2.

Serena, along with husband Jeff Villnow, and their three adult children Kayla, Jaden and Cassie, will all attend Saturday’s race in Baltimore, Md.

With Mine That Bird’s new-found reputation, Serena said her father and the rest of the family will take the same “whatever happens, happens” approach they did at Churchill Downs.

“That Kentucky Derby experience, you could just never top that,” she said. “There are no great expectations. If something happens that’s great, but if not, that Kentucky Derby will last us a lifetime.”