This is all about the Derby: Its song (Chandler was best) and things you should know

| April 20, 2011

All things about the Derby – the Kentucky Derby.

During a recent “Mike and Mike in the Morning” on ESPN2, Mike Greenberg said something was as nostalgic as the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” before the Kentucky Derby. “Or Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle) singing ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’ before the start of the Indianapolis 500. Or Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus starting the Masters Golf Tournament by hitting ceremonial first balls.”

I always preferred Happy Chandler singing our song before UK basketball games at Rupp Arena. And the version of “Back Home Again in Indiana” by the IU opera singer-faculty member at the start of telecasts of Hoosier basketball games as she pushed a broom down a hallway of the IU basketball arena.

She and our two-time former governor, U.S. senator and high commissioner of baseball could sing.

Kentucky and Louisville boosters have nothing else equal to the national and international attention we get from Churchill Downs and the Derby. It’s the one day of the year that thoroughbred racing really is No. 1 in the whole wide world.

New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Daley was a cold a fish as I have ever known. Our seats were adjoining at the Derby. When our song was played, I was surprised when he said, “Everyone told me that tears would flow when the band played ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ but I didn’t believe them. But it does!”

I ran across Daley during the Munich Olympics. I told him that I had the same feelings when the USA Olympic team entered the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies with Old Glory leading the way. Now THAT will get to you.

Some things that you may want to discuss with your Derby guests:

What year did Man o’ War win the Derby?

The great horse not only didn’t win the Derby, he never raced in the state of Kentucky.

Well then, what are the best horses to rule on the first Saturday in May?

The first one to get my attention was Whirlaway.

Then another Calumet horse, Citation.

But after seeing Secretariat, he gets my vote.

Warning: Don’t get into the best horses unless you want a long argument.

Top trainers?

Calumet’s father-son combination of Ben and Jimmy Jones.

Best jockeys?

I always liked Eddie Arcaro because he was a Kentuckian. But cantankerous Bill Hartack and “Standup” Bill Shoemaker were in the same league. I put that “Standup” in there because he misjudged the finish line in one Derby. Calvin Borel has earned mention in the same breath with the other greats.

Patty Jo Cooksey was the best of the women riders and she does a good job interviewing racing personalities even while on horseback or face-to-face after races. I always watch the station that has her.

Top veterinarian?

Has to be Dr. Alex Harthill. He saddled more winners than any other.

The Triple Crown. How many have won the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont?

The answer is 11 – and there may never be another.

They are Sir Barton in 1919, Gallant Fox in 1930, Omaha in 1938, War Admiral in 1937, Whirlaway in 1941, Count Fleet in 1943, Assault in 1946, Citation in 1948, Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.

It has been a long dry spell since ’78.

The Derby personality I got the biggest kick out of meeting?

John Wayne – and no one else is close. But Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon has to be added.

The best racing book I have read?

One is above all others, “This Was Racing,” by Joe Palmer. It has been out of print for at least half a century. Courier-Journal sports editor Earl Ruby gave me his copy, which has disappeared. If you’re lucky, you may find a public library that has a copy. Palmer was a UK professor who covered racing for the Lexington papers and then for The Herald-Tribune in New York. The late Jim Bolus, racing writer for The C-J, wrote  a lot of good Derby books.

Is it true that the president of Chuurchill Downs was once Bill Corum, a New York sports columnist and TV boxing and racing commentator? If so, why?

It is very true. Churchill Downs wanted to lure all of the top New York writers to the Derby. It was Corum’s job to woo  the media stars to Louisville. He wined and dined them – and it worked!

I worked briefly for The Indianapolis Star while I was in the Army at Fort Benjamin Harrison. The Star’s sports editor said that the Indy 500 would give the pace car to anyone who could do the same for the 500.

As newspapers have dwindled, which papers give good coverage to the Derby and racing besides The Courier-Journal and The Lexington Herald-Leader?

The New York Times always has done the most thorough job – and still does.

Louisville writers?  Who were the best?

Billy Reed, Mike Barry, Jerry McNerney, Jim Bolus, Dean Eagle and Marvin Gaye. Jennie Rees has done a super job from the time she started.

Radio and TV reporters?

In a class by himself is none other than Cawood  Ledford. He was so good and so respected by the big names of racing that owners, trainers and jockeys sought him out to see if he wanted to interview them!

Present TV guys?

Our state has the best. Tom Hammond, Kenny Rice, Mike Battaglia – Kentuckians all. Now that NBC has all three Triple Crown races, we will get to enjoy their thorough coverage more than ever.

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Category: Sports

About the Author (Author Profile)

Earl Cox, Sports Columnist

Earl doesn¹t just write about sports legends, he counts many of them as his
friends. A member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, he has been writing
about sports for 60 years. Incidentally, that¹s about how long it’s been
since he¹s cleaned his desk but he knows where everything is.

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