We arrived at Churchill Downs about noon on Derby Day entering by gate 5 which is for horsemen and family. It’s on the backside where the barns and horses are. It was a festive group and the area between the barns reminded me of the midway at a carnival. The backside was fairly crowded, but nothing like the main grandstands where it was shoulder to shoulder! Each barn had tables with covered dishes. Some were cooking food, but most of us were sitting around in folding chairs sharing old stories and new dreams.
About an hour before our race, a golf cart arrived to give my partner, Fred Bradley, Pam and me a lift to the main entrance. From there we proceeded with our escort to the horsemen’s room which is adjacent to the paddock where the horses are saddled and the jockeys mount prior to the races. When it was our turn, we walked to the center of the paddock where owners and friends gather as the horses parade in with their trainers and grooms. The horses are walked in the circle and then saddled. Through the tunnel they go followed by us. The tunnel leads us directly to the rail where we watch the race with my partners, Fred Bradley, Buff Bradley and Carl Hurst.
When the race finally started we had to watch the big screen to see the action. Groupie Doll took the lead at what looked to be TOO early. Then someone suddenly hollered, “Here they come!” I looked left and they were turning into the homestretch with our horse in the lead. The next few moments were surreal to me. 165,000 people cheering on the horses and I never heard them. All I remember is my fist clenched and my hollering “HANG ON! HANG ON!”
Not only did Groupie Doll hang on but she broke Churchill Downs’ 7 furlong track record which had stood for eleven years! Thanks to Groupie Doll we (Fred Bradley, Buff Bradley, Carl Hurst, Pam & I) had a day we will always be thankful for. So that’s how I finally got in the winners’ circle after many years in the horse business! Stay tuned! Groupie Doll’s not through yet!