The world’s most Louahvul newsletter goes out every Friday. Subscribe at

4.30.2021, No. 52


⏱️ = 5-minute read (or so)

“Louisville without the Derby is not pronounced Lou-ah-vuhl” — Louisville Magazine, April 2020



Photo by Adam Mescan

In March 2020, just days away from sending our annual massive Derby issue to the printer, Covid sent our city and the globe into lockdown. With Kentucky Derby 146 delayed from May to September (without fans), we scrapped all of our planned content and, in a few weeks, published a different project. Through the lens of the postponed Derby, we explored the uncertainty we were all experiencing. My colleague Anne Marshall wrote, “Derby gives Louisville much of its identity — its confidence, even. It’s a dressed-up moment for an otherwise tucked-away place.”


We wanted to know: What would Louisville be without the Derby? What does the Derby — with its outsized cultural and economic impact — mean to us as Louisvillians?


So many of the quotes have stuck with me, but I really love what the C-J’s Kirby Adams had to say: “There is a moment right before And they’re off! when you can feel a swell of pride, excitement and pure joy coming off everyone watching. Nothing like it anywhere else I have lived.”


One of the stories we had to hold last year was a late-February fashion shoot, which contributor Christine Fellingham describes as: “Eight hours styling models spaced as far apart as possible in the dressing area and executing a weirdly prescient theme: preparing for the unexpected and the extreme. (Weather, but still.) Models emoted and posed for the impending perils. At the time, it seemed like an edgy juxtaposition: beauty and color pitted against unforeseen foes. We spent the day battling imaginary dangers, oblivious to those we didn’t see coming.”


Derby 147 is tomorrow.


Backside photograph by Clarke Otte

While working on a book project on the backside at Churchill Downs, Louisville Story Program deputy director Joe Manning stumbled upon a box of old photographs, which opened up a new world for him at the track. In this story about the photographer, Clarke Otte, Manning writes: “The backside community is, by its very design, out of sight, and most of us understand precious little about the lives of the grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders, outriders, security guards, assistants, educators and raconteurs who make up the real heartbeat of racing in Louisville, and who are also routinely overlooked amid the glitz and glam of Derby Week. It’s increasingly self-evident that, if we ever really care to understand our city, ourselves and the legacy of Thoroughbred racing here, we must listen to the folks who make racing possible.


“Breaking into the backside’s tight-knit and cloistered community wasn’t easy. One day, an acquaintance at the track said, ‘You know, my co-worker showed up with a box FULL of old photographs from the backside. Just old pictures of barn life back in the day. Maybe you’d be interested in some of them.’ The box of images led me to one Clarke Otte. When I had a stack of his photos on hand — when prospective interviewees from the old-school set laid eyes on the warm palette of those candid shots from the Churchill Downs backstretch of yesteryear, when they saw the faces of their friends, some of them long passed, staring back at them — the stories flooded out.”


The Louisville Story Program’s resulting bookBetter Lucky Than Good: Tall Tales and Straight Talk from the Backside of the Track, has a podcast companion piece, Track Changes, that you should listen to.

3. And now, for the second year in a row, my kids — Emilia, a first-grader, and Miles, who’s four — reveal their win, place and show Derby picks. (They got all wrong last year. Suckers.)


The Field (in order of post position, with odds-as-of-this-writing in parentheses)


1. Known Agenda (11-1)
Emilia: “Like an agenda that has all your things for a day on it.”
Miles: “Jenga?”


2. Like the King (50-1)
E: “Too many kings. Is there a queen?”


3. Brooklyn Strong (39-1)
M: “Strong muscles.”
E: “Reminds me of a train. But probably a slow train.”


4. Keepmeinmind (39-1)
E: “I think it’ll be a slow horse because it will be thinking too much about the race and will slow down.”


5. Sainthood (29-1)
E: “Hollywood?”
M: “Probably just regular wood. It’ll be a slow horse because it’ll be thinking about chopping wood at home.”


6. O Besos (34-1)
E: “No.”
M: “Nope, not the winner.”
E: “But you never know, it could win.”


7. Mandaloun (27-1)
M: “The Mandalorian!”
E: “Baby Yoda. Cute. Cute horse, I think.”
M: “This horse will be light speed. I’d name a horse Blinding Fast. I’d put boosters on him.”
E: “That’d be cheating.”
M: “No, you can’t cheat.”


8. Medina Spirit (11-1)
E: “Probably like Spirit and Lucky. It’s this show on Netflix about a horse and a girl.”


9. Hot Rod Charlie (9-2)
M: “Like a hot rod car. Or maybe a motorcycle. It’s probably fast! I hope it’s gonna win.”


10. Midnight Bourbon (11-1)
E: “It reminds me of New Year’s Eve at midnight.”


11. Dynamic One (35-1)
M: “Dynamite!”


12. Helium (36-1)
E: “This horse will fly over the race!”


13. Hidden Stash (29-1)
E: “I do have a candy stash.”
M: “Sour Patch Kids.”
E: “Every candy in the world.”
M: “If the horse ate a lot of candy he would throw up.”


14. Essential Quality (5-1)
M: “I don’t know if I like that name. Just a weird name.”
E: “E and quality. Equality.”


15. Rock Your World (5-1)
M: “Remember last year when I said pee and you wrote it down?”
E: “That one’s really cool. It makes me think of the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster at Disney World.”
M: “It sounds like Camp Rock. That’s a show. I mean a movie.”


16. King Fury (24-1)
E: “I would name a horse Princes Belle or Princess Merida or Queen Elsa or Queen Anna.”


17. Highly Motivated (11-1)
E: “That horse will be ready for a race at any time.”


18. Super Stock (30-1)
E: “Reminds me of Christmas stockings.”
M: “That horse will probably get good things in the stocking. Maybe horse gear.”


19. Soup and Sandwich (21-1)
E: “I like PB&J.”
M: “I don’t like soup.”


20. Bourbonic (24-1)
M: “That doesn’t sound like a real word to me.”


Emilia’s Picks
Win: Highly Motivated
Place: Mandaloun
Show: Helium


Miles’ Picks
Win: Hot Rod Charlie
Place: Mandaloun
Show: Hidden Stash

4. Late last winter, before the pandemic shut down our city, Louisville Magazine interns Matthew Keck and Starr Savoy, armed with crayons, colored pencils and markers, went to the Derby Museum to ask visitors (including several JCPS elementary students on a field trip): Can you draw a horse? The results made me question that famous Winston Churchill quote: “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”


“One even drew a cow,” Matthew says, “which isn’t any easier.”


Here’s what the kids drew:

And this one, by Derby Museum marketing coordinator Chamanthi Weeratunga Watson, hangs on my fridge:

A Canadian did this one:


By Starr, our intern:

By Matthew, our intern:

And one cow:

5. Dear reader — We’ve known each other for more than a year now, so I’m comfortable making this confession: When I can’t fall asleep, sometimes I close my eyes and in my mind go through every Derby winner since Street Sense in 2007, which was my first Derby in Louisville. The other night, I got all the way to 2020 and…nuthin’. No memory of the first Saturday in May that became the first Saturday in September. I texted my sports/racing brain trust, to see if they had the same problem.


Without looking it up can you name the 2020 Derby winner?
Kane Webb (former Louisville Magazine editor): “A Baffert horse with one name? I think.”


My Buddy Eric Who Has A Vintage Cardinal Mascot Tattooed On His Ass: “Nope!”


My buddy Bobby: “I don’t remember but should because I cashed in big time with his win.”


Gail Kamenish (turf photographer, including for Louisville Magazine): “Of course! Authentic!”


Ted Tarquinio (turf photographer, including for Louisville Magazine): “Authentic, trained by Bob Baffert, ridden by John Velazquez.”


Bill Doolittle (turf writer, including for Louisville Magazine): “Authentic. 2019 is harder: Country House after disqualification of initial winner Maximum Jail Time, err, Maximum Security. I remember being with you up in the stands. The video they kept showing, we could not see any foul. But when I saw the stewards’ view later, it was a straightforward call. Besides interfering with about eight horses, he almost caused a wreck.”


Me: “I must’ve blacked out parts of 2020 because I’ve never heard of Authentic.”


Brandon Quick (turf writer, including for Louisville Magazine): “2020 was such a fuckin’ bad year. You get a pass.”


Kane: “I remember nothing of that race.”


Quick: “Authentic won. But I can name them all without looking since 2000, so I’m a loser that way.”


Doolittle: “Imagine trying to remember Gallahadion, 1940. Or Lookout, some time in the 1890s.”


Me: “If the Derby happens at an empty track in September during a pandemic does it make a sound?”


Kane: “It sure doesn’t make an impression.”


My buddy Philby: “If no porta potty runs happen in the infield it didn’t occur.”

Support for Louisville Magazine comes from Phocus, the Louisville-founded caffeinated sparkling water sold nationwide, including in town at Heine Bros.’ Coffee, Kroger, Paul’s Fruit Market, Rainbow Blossom, Thorntons, Party Mart, Liquor Barn. It’s also in my refrigerator so I can survive Derby Weekend. One year off and I’m already feeling rusty.


A little something from the LouMag archive.

I went into the archive to find the first mention of the first Saturday in May in our pages. The inaugural issue, March 1950, included a piece that read, “For the first time in its long history, the Kentucky Derby will be run without Matt J. Winn, ‘Mr. Derby,’ looking on. The man who saw the first running of the great classic from his father’s wagon in the Churchill Downs centerfield as a 13-year-old boy in 1875, and who promoted the race until it gained its present fame, died Oct. 6, 1949.” (Middleground won the race in ’50.) Winn’s successor as Churchill Downs president told the magazine, “The Winn tradition…made the Kentucky Derby the one race in America every person wanted to see. You cannot improve on that.”


A horse appeared on our cover for the first time in the winter of 1951:

Louisville Magazine's winter 1951 cover

And we published our first Derby issue, which kicked off an annual tradition, in March 1952 (with Hill Gail winning the roses that May):

Louisville Magazine's April 1952 cover

I sent this one to photographer Ted Tarquinio, who has been shooting the Derby for us for a decade, and he says: “I can hear the cacophony of voices since 2003’s renovation that constantly say, ‘Churchill Downs needs to raise up the Twin Spires!’ As a lifelong Louisvillian and Thoroughbred photographer, this sentiment has been expressed to me thousands of times. While I certainly understand this impossible architectural wish, we should all treasure the historic preservation efforts that have kept our city’s most famous landmark intact for 150 years despite a constant evolution of the grounds. This cover definitely captures the historic majesty that we all miss of the Twin Spires towering over the track, but if we didn’t evolve I would still be carrying around a behemoth wooden tripod like those photographers on the roof.”


Churchill Downs and partners the Kentucky Derby Festival and Humana have launched an “equity initiative”…and before the Derby “My Old Kentucky Home,” a song about a slave, will still play.

Josh Moss
editor, Louisville Magazine

Read past newsletters here.


Hope you’ll subscribe to this newsletter if you haven’t already, and hope you’ll forward to somebody you think will enjoy reading this. If you must: unsubscribe.