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    By Steve Kaufman
    Photo by Mickie Winters

    Lots of us have Derby julep glasses. Or programs. Or betting tickets. But what about the Louisville Jockey Club’s original minutes book from 1874, the year Churchill Downs was being built, one year before the first Kentucky Derby? “I’ve been told, by professional collectors and auctioneers, that I have the best, most valuable private collection of horseracing memorabilia they’ve ever seen,” Ken Grayson says.

    The retired businessman keeps his collection in the basement of his Lexington home. It’s on the walls, in cabinets, on bookshelves and tabletops — to be touched and inspected and appreciated. His personal history-of-horseracing museum is probably worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe more. (Grayson prefers not to say.) He eased into his hobby almost accidentally when he befriended jockey Willie Tichenor while they were in the Army in Louisiana. Grayson accompanied Tichenor to Evangeline Downs on weekends, and the germ incubated. A month after he got out of the Army in 1966, Grayson attended his first Kentucky Derby. “Kauai King,” he says, “with Don Brumfield up.” His ability to pair winning Derby horse and rider with the year they won is astounding. The 73-year-old has missed only one Derby since ’66.

    He kept his program and julep glass from that first Derby. “I’d always been one to save things,” he says. The next year, he bought the same souvenirs. “And soon I had these programs and these glasses, and I thought, maybe I can find some older ones.” Now he has a complete assortment of Derby programs going back to 1919, many of them signed by the winning jockeys, trainers and owners. Grayson owns Seattle Slew’s Triple Crown trophy, American Pharoah’s silks, Man o’ War’s saddle. He has paid for plenty of items, but as he began building his collection, he met jockeys, who gave him their whips and caps, goggles and silks. Owners and trainers started seeing him as someone who would perpetuate the history of the sport. Penny Chenery, Secretariat’s owner who died last year, became one of Grayson’s close friends.

    Grayson has cups, trophies, photographs, personal correspondence, magazine covers, books, posters, photos and negatives from the ’20s and ’30s by turf photographer L.S. Sutcliffe, and even a grandstand periscope form the 1937 Derby. There’s an old wall cock from Calumet Baking Powder in Chicago, the company that provided the seed money in 1924 to establish Calumet Farm, whose nine Derby wins are the most of any breeding operation. Someday, Grayson will donate his treasures to tracks and racing museums, and he will set up a trust fund for one of his five grandchildren, who is autistic.

    “I’ve met some of the greatest people,” Grayson says. “The best jockeys and trainers who ever were.”

    This originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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