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Dreams come true for a horse, filmmakers, and fans as '50 to 1' hits the road

A dream came true, a dream of an eclectic group of New Mexicans who had the chance of running a long shot in the Kentucky Derby. The kernel of an idea was formed after producer/director Jim Wilson, a self-proclaimed “horse nut,” and Faith Conroy, script supervisor and former journalist, watched the 2009 Kentucky Derby and saw Mine That Bird win the race. Why not tell this classic story of the underdog coming from behind with 50 to 1 odds and winning? Could another dream come true?

Faith Conroy (co-producer, co-writer) and Skeet Ulrich get off the bus in Albuquerque. Bruce Wayne Eckelman (Bob Baffert in the film) is there to greet them.
Faith Conroy (co-producer, co-writer) and Skeet Ulrich get off the bus in Albuquerque. Bruce Wayne Eckelman (Bob Baffert in the film) is there to greet them.
Lindsay Waite
Producers and cast sign posters for fans
Lindsay Waite

Wilson and Conroy wrote the first draft of a script and then met with horse owners Doc Blach and Mark Allen. They liked it. Wilson and Conroy, who eventually took on the producer roles as well, next spent a lot of time in New Mexico, getting to know the players, the landscape, and the places where the action happened. Over 30 New Mexico locations were used in the film, including Sunland Park, Ponderosa, and Roswell.

Although Wilson and Conroy had already been involved in a number of Hollywood successes ("Dances with Wolves" for Wilson, "Thor" for Conroy), funds did not come from Hollywood to support the film. Independent sources, such as those involved in horse-racing, were tapped. “50 to 1” was produced outside the studio system as well. With a lot of hard work, they got it done, and now the film is being screened.

Upon completion of this independent film, a brilliant idea was conceived - a bus tour from New Mexico to Kentucky to promote the film and meet the fans.

The world premiere of “50 to 1” was at the historic Kimo in Albuquerque, screening last Wednesday, March 19. See the link for a review from that night.

Before the premiere, excited crowds gathered on Central Avenue to see Mine That Bird in person. The horse took the attention in stride, which race horses likely are prone to do. Then, the bus arrived.

A number of stars stepped out, including writers/producers Wilson and Conroy along with actors Skeet Ulrich (Chip Woolley), Christian Kane (Mark Allen), Hugo Perez (Miguel), Maddie Deutch (Alex), Todd Lowe (Kelly Allen), and even the jockey from the Derby and the film, Calvin Borel. Fans were greeted graciously and photo ops were allowed. Next, the filmmakers, actors, and guests entered the KiMo to watch the film.

"50 to 1" was warmly received. In fact, during the scene of Mine That Bird’s run at the 2009 Derby, the audience cheered when the horse came from 30 lengths behind and had a stunning victory.

After the premiere in Albuquerque, folks got back on the bus and headed to Santa Fe. On Friday, March 21, another crowd awaited their arrival in the parking lot of the Regal Cinemas Stadium Movie Theater. After Wilson, Conroy, and others got out of the bus, the fans patiently stood in line. For about 90 minutes, Wilson and Conroy along with actors Todd Lowe (“True Blood"), Christian Kane ("Leverage"), Maddie Deutch ("Mayor Cupcake"), and Hugo Perez (Longmire"), were fully engaged with the crowd. They met and chatted with every single fan, giving them their full attention and signing posters.

Anna Marie Salazar, who saw the noon screening of the film that day, remarked, “It was a wonderful movie. People cried when Mine That Bird won.” Another fan, Alison Jessop, proudly showed off her tattoo dedicated to Kane, and mentioned she flew in from San Diego, California just for this “meet and greet.”

Christian Kane talked about how, as a musician, he sees fans dancing, singing along, and rocking to the tunes. As a songwriter, he enjoys taking his music to the people. In fact, in “50 to 1,” two of his tunes from his 2010 album "House Rules" are in the film (“Something’s Gotta’ Give” and “Whiskey in Mind”).

Kane noted that usually with a film, though, you do not see the fan reaction. He said, “On this tour, the emotions are really coming out....I’m getting to shake hands with the fans and see that we got the job done.” When I asked him about Name That Bird, Kane mentioned he is retired from racing, lives at Mark Allen’s ranch in the Roswell area, and still loves doughnuts and peppermints.

Todd Lowe has been in theater, film, and television productions but noted something special about this film and the bus tour. “There is a family feel in TV, but this movie feels like a real family.”

Maddie Deutch, who plays the rebellious Alex, had a background riding horses. She was a natural for the film as the horse exerciser. Alex and Ulrich’s character, Chip Woolley, are frequently at odds. Deutch portrayed Alex by drawing on the insecurity underlying the behavior of those who feel they have to act cool and detached. Maddie also shared that she is not a dancer, but that “Christian’s music helped” get her right into the spirit.

Hugo Perez plays the role of Miguel, Chip Woolley’s jockey, at the beginning of the film. He said that his role in this film has been “a humbling experience.” He continued. “It’s great to work with people so passionate, attentive, and real.” He admitted that when he auditioned he exaggerated his riding skills, but got the role and then got some help from a trainer. “I love road-tripping, love being on a horse, and I’d do it again.”

The enthusiasm of Jim Wilson and Faith Conroy for the film, the fans, and the road trip, is infectious. Each spoke of their love for filming in New Mexico, and the tour bus has taken them to several locations here. Aside from Albuquerque and Santa Fe, they have stopped in Rio Rancho, Anthony, Los Cruces, and Ruidoso and other New Mexico locations. Next are visits in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma (where Kane’s family is), Arkansas, Tennessee, and then finally Kentucky. The film opens in each state as the bus arrives.

Jim Wilson noted: “We’re getting a great response from the fans.” Faith Conroy echoed this opinion: “Oh my gosh, it’s great.” 

They are traveling and sleeping on the bus, equipped with a shower, bathroom, and the ability to connect wirelessly. It is close quarters, and I asked Conroy what it was like to be traveling on this bus tour with more men than women. She laughed, saying “I love cowboys so it isn’t a challenge on the bus tour.”

Indeed, there is definitely a sense of family among this group. As they travel from New Mexico to Kentucky, they are sharing their love for this story, the film, and the fans across the country.

It is a unique way of promoting a film and is a way for fans to connect not only with the film but also with the people who made the film. Check out their website for the next stops and be sure to catch this heartwarming film about unexpected winners.

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