By DAWNE GEE | WAVE 3 News
On the first Saturday in May, the world takes note of Louisville, Kentucky’s Churchill Downs for the most exciting two minutes in sports. The race itself is big news, but there are always underlying headlines and stories that are just as exciting.
In the 1933 Kentucky Derby, the race to the finish line is one of the most famous in the history of Churchill Downs. It is known as the “Fighting Finish” and yes, punches were thrown during the race.
“The two jockeys are fighting each other while they are mid race coming down the stretch about to cross,” Jessica Whitehead, Museum Collections Manager at the Kentucky Derby Museum explained.
An 18-year-old jockey, Don Meade, on Broker’s Tip and 22-year-old jockey Herb Fischer on Head Play were punching and whipping each other as they came down the stretch nose to nose. There were no cameras on the wire to determine a close finish in those days. The stewards had that tough job.
A famous picture that documented the two jockeys fighting was captured by a Courier Journal photographer who rolled under the rail to snap the picture then rolled back onto the turf as the horses raced by.
“Of course, it was debated for a long time whether Broker’s Tip was actually the winner of the Derby or whether Broker’s Tip should have been disqualified,” Whitehead stressed.
On the 50th anniversary of their Derby run, Meade and Fischer decided to call a truce.
Back in 1892, the Kentucky Derby had many significant situations take place.
“It was the smallest racing field for any Kentucky Derby,” Whitehead said.
There were only three horses in the race. Azra took the garland of roses home that Derby day. The horse was owned by George Long.
“George Long was the owner of Bashford Manor stables, which was here within the city limits of Louisville,” Whitehead said. “He bred three Kentucky Derby winners. They are the only three Kentucky Derby winners born in Louisville.”
Even the jockey in the 1892 Kentucky Derby made history. He was only 15-years-old. His name was Alonzo Clayton.
“Alonzo Clayton was the youngest jockey ever to win a Kentucky Derby,” Whitehead said.
In 1957, it was just too cold. It was so cold that not even the bourbon in a spirited mint julep could warm you up. The high temperature that Derby day only made it to 42 degrees. To add to the misery of the recorded cold temperatures, they were accompanied by north winds of 20 to 25 mph!
“It was so cold that mint julep sales were very, very low and they had an intense surplus of the 1957 derby glass,” Whitehead said with a smile. “They decided that they were going to print the 1957 winner, Iron Liege, onto the 1957 glass making it a glass they could sell in 1958.”
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With a bit of quick thinking and ingenuity, the 1957 Kentucky Derby glass was turned into a keepsake and was sold in the infield in 1958. They also created a 1958 Kentucky Derby glass, just as they have always done for each Derby.
The Derby has never been canceled in its 145 years. There were times in history that both the Preakness and the Belmont, the other jewels of the Triple Crown, did not run.
“There was only one year that the Derby might be canceled and that was in 1937,” Whitehead said.
The River City’s river almost canceled that Derby for the first time in history. Twenty-seven square miles of Louisville were under water, including parts of Churchill Downs.
“Even though it left a lot of mud and a lot of things that needed to be cleaned up, they got it cleaned up in time for Derby Day,” Whitehead said proudly.
It is very fortunate it was all cleaned up. The winner in 1937: War Admiral.
“War Admiral would go on to become a Triple Crown winner,” Whitehead exclaimed.
Weather is an important factor on the first Saturday in May. You don’t have to look too far back in history to find the wettest day in the history of the Kentucky Derby.
It is awarded to May 5, 2018. On that recent Derby Day, 3.15 inches of rain fell in Louisville.