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    What do Paris Hilton and Derby horses have in common? You know, other than being worth gobs of money. Answer: The horses have their own security detail too! The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office provides 24/7 protection to Derby horses, from the Wednesday before the Derby until after the Saturday race. This year, security will start Tuesday and go through Saturday night. Shifts are chopped into 12-hour chunks, and Grayson County deputies often assist with the humdrum overnight slog.

    Each horse has its own deputy, who ensures that only individuals approved by trainers can enter the barns, per Kentucky Racing Commission orders. Typically, deputies won’t stray more than six to 10 feet from their horse. Unless it’s time for the Thoroughbred to run. Then the deputy will walk alongside the jockeyed horse until they reach the dirt track. “Deputies are the eyes and ears of the racing commission,” says Maj. Mike Littlefield, who worked the detail for about six years. “If a shot is given to the horse, deputies collect the syringes. We don’t know half the stuff they give (the horses), but there are certain drugs horses are not allowed (to have) before the race.” When a deputy’s horse wins or places in the Derby, that deputy must scramble to join the horse (and its joyful entourage) on the track, scooting them along to a quarantined area for routine drug testing.

    One year, Littlefield says, a deputy broke into tears when the horse he protected won the Derby. It was 2009 — Mine That Bird, the 50-1 longshot. “It’s a different side of Churchill Downs that most people don’t get to see,” Littlefield says. “But I’m not going to lie: After about the third day if it’s cold and wet, it wears you out.”

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

    Cover photo by Adam Mescan

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