Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 111 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 111 days to go!

111 Days!!! 1908 was known as the year that Matt Winn saved the Derby. A groundswell had caused an outcry against gambling, leading to a hostile new city administration that wanted all forms outlawed and Churchill shut down. They declared bookmakers, the only form of gambling at the course, illegal and threatened to arrest them.

Winn, believing that there would be some legal loophole to the new law, searched the record books and found one, which allowed for the use of “French pools”, or pari-mutuel machines. The track had some of the machines in storage, as they had been used previously before the bookmakers became the way to wager. The city government tried to stop their use, but Winn had friends in the government too that managed to over-rule the attempt. Even though the machines were allowed, the government still placed police officers around the track for show.

Eleven machines were used, seven for straight bets, two for place, and two for show wagers. People were hesitant at first, not wanting to use the machines, nevertheless, by the end of the day they were won over. Instead of having to buy into auction pools which could cost hundreds of dollars, or having to use the bookmaker’s odds, the machines took $5 wagers that set the odds as a result of how much was placed on each horse. The machine was equipped with a phone and the ticket seller would phone to the calculator the number of wagers placed after betting ceased on each race. The calculators were in the cashier’s room, where each cashable ticket would be held to pay out, and each ticket was signed by Winn.

The gloomy weather and the government threat did little to stop attendance and crowd enthusiasm at the track on Derby day, so another victory was taken by Winn. The winner of the 34th Kentucky Derby was Stone Street, a colt bred by James B. Haggin, the owner of Ben Ali, the 1886 Kentucky Derby winner. Stone Street was the only Derby winner that Haggin bred, as Daniel Swigert bred Ben Ali. His sire was Longstreet, a son of the famous sire Longfellow, and he was out of the *Stonehenge mare, Stone Nellie. Noted Latonia turfman C.E. Hamilton owned the colt and sent him to trainer John Hall for conditioning. At two, Stone Street won three of his 17 starts, finishing in the money 7 times. He was a longshot for the Kentucky Derby, going off at odds of 24-1.

Thirteen starters were originally named for the contest, however a deluge of rain the night before made the track a quagmire, and the grey skies the next morning did little to raise the hopes that the track would dry out. As a result, only 8 challengers faced the starter. The victor apparently had a liking for the slop, as he won easily by 4 lengths in a time of 2:15 1/5. 19 year old Cincinnati jockey Arthur Pickens called it an easy race for the well-bred bay colt.

From the “History of the Kentucky Derby, 1875-1921: “Round the stretch turn came Banridge and at his heels were his relentless pursuers. Stone Street nailed him when straight for the wire and the shout went up, "Sir Gleges is beaten." Koerner was hard at work on him and he held his place with bulldog courage, but the lack of condition was telling on him and Stone Street which raced at New Orleans and was fit, drew away with ease and came under the wire with his jockey sitting still.”

The Courier-Journal describing the horses that finished behind Stone Street: “…they staggered up through the wide muddy lane like a straggling crowd of drunken men in the early dawn…as dizzy as a bunch of school boys who had just finished playing ‘spin the human top’.”  

The Kentucky Derby would be the only stakes race that Stone Street would win in his five seasons of racing. He was retired in 1911, and at some point was gelded. In an unfortunate accident in 1914, he jumped a fence, escaping his paddock, and ended up tangled in a wire fence that cut him severely, ending in his passing.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum