80 years later, Kentucky Derby still ‘dream of every person owning a thoroughbred’

Library of Congress photo
After a record crowd 80 years ago saw War Admiral take the first step toward his Triple Crown in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, the headline of the Daily Racing Form’s “Here and There on the Turf” column gently criticized the storied Central Avenue track while praising the American classic in ways that remain true today. See the quotes below.

The part that doesn’t hold up is the headline.

“Derby too big for Churchill Downs,” the headline proclaimed. “Could use 25,000 more seats.”

“Our deepest impression this brightest and finest Derby Day in more than a decade is the inadequacy of Churchill Downs,” the story began. “No person realizes this fact more than Matt Winn, that genial, jovial man, who developed a dream into the nation’s greatest sporting event. As he gazed over Churchill Downs this afternoon, Colonel Winn saw people and more people, the multitude extending in unbroken order for fully three-eighths of a mile. Thousands more were in the center field (infield), lined along the back stretch and in the areas behind the clubhouse and grandstand. Every year since the Derby came into national prominence, Winn has had to make changes in the Churchill Downs plant and in preparations for this year’s renewal many new seats were installed and a mezzanine floor was added to the grandstand but still more room is required.”

The story said two people were there for every seat and finding the room for them “taxes the nimble brain of Colonel Winn.”

The column even foreshadowed the renovations that have put premium seating astride the Twin Spires. “Some day Churchill Downs may have to be reconstructed entirely to accommodate the persons who would see the Derby.”

The latest construction project is on hold so the race can be run for the 143rd consecutive year over the racetrack that now draws upwards of 160,000 on the first Saturday in May.

Much of the story stands up to today’s Derby experience.

“Persons who paid well for their boxes were amply protected against intruders,” the story said.

The story also provided the historical significance of the race then as now.

“As long as there is horse racing in America, the Kentucky Derby will be a national institution because the sport is too deeply rooted in the Blue Grass State to be rooted out,” the story said. ” … It not only is the greatest advertisement the state has, but year after year brings many thousands of visitors whose expenditures run into the millions.”


“The honor and glory of a Derby victory is the dream of every person owning a thoroughbred,” the story said.



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