The Kentucky Derby may have been postponed due to the current health crisis, but the arrival of spring still will bring memories of Derby season for many race fans. In recognition of this, here are five books to tide you over until September 5.
- Churchill Downs: A Documentary History of America’s Most Legendary Racetrack, by Samuel W. Thomas
In 1995, the late, Louisville historian Sam Thomas published a comprehensive look at the creation and evolution of Churchill Downs, home to the Run for the Roses. Thomas’ unique approach to his work consisted of curated excerpts from original newspaper articles, presenting the history of the track as it unfolded. Although out of print, you may be able to find used copies at Amazon or through your local library or interlibrary loan.
- Down the Stretch: The Story of Colonel Matt J. Winn, as told to Frank G. Menke
Matt Winn served in the administration of Churchill Downs from 1902-1949 and is seen as the leading force in making the Derby the international cultural event it is today. First published in 1945, then Churchill Downs Publicity Director Frank Menke uses Winn’s words to relay the latter’s life story. Winn proves to be a great storyteller, showing the reader why he was deemed a master at marketing and public relations. Also out of print, it may be found through Amazon, your local library or interlibrary loan.
- The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy, by Pellom McDaniels III
When Churchill Downs held the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, 13 of the 15 jockeys were African American. In addition, 15 of the first 28 runnings of the Derby were won by African American jockeys. In 2013, Dr. McDaniels published this biography of black jockey Isaac Murphy, first three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and arguably the greatest jockey of all-time. You can find copies of this book through its publisher, the University Press of Kentucky, and through Amazon.
- Better Lucky Than Good, by the Louisville Story Program
This is a unique look at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby told through the backside workers and neighborhood residents that have been tied to its stories for years. It’s made even more compelling by the fact that each story is told by the individual, in their own words and often supplemented with their own photos.
The book is available in the Kentucky Derby Museum Gift Shop.
- Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown, by Jennifer S. Kelly
In 2019, the Kentucky Derby Museum celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Triple Crown and its first winner, Sir Barton. The three-race series was not recognized as such in 1919, and at the time Sir Barton may have been better-known for his loss to the legendary Man o’ War in 1920. This book puts the proper spotlight on this true history-making athlete.
It is available in the Kentucky Derby Museum Gift Shop.