Excerpt from "Down the Stretch"

Excerpt from "Down the Stretch"

Matt Winn describes what it was like to attend his first Kentucky Derby in the book “Down the Stretch” published by Smith and Durrell in 1949. It was 1875 and he was just 13 years old.

“My father had promised to take me to see the opening of the new track, and the running of the Derby, provided I performed a few extra chores, which were completed in world’s record time.

I was up at dawn. It was clear, sunshiny and warm. Father hitched the horse to the wagon, which he generally used in hauling groceries from the wholesale houses, and we were off for my first Derby through the greatest traffic jam Louisville had known up to that time.

The mule-drawn street cars were loaded to the limit. Those who had horses, hitched them to carts, or buggies, and were on their way. Others horsebacked to the track, while thousands walked.”

Winn goes on to describe their place in the infield, where he could see “the grandstand a riot of color” and his view from standing on the seat of his father’s wagon, “the best view of any 13 year old boy.”

“During the hours before the race, many of the ‘infielders’ came over to our wagon and rested themselves by leaning against it. Most of their conversation was about a horse named Chesapeake. They said he was a great one; one of the greatest that ever was. Little chance for any other horse.”

From that point, Winn did something we can all relate to: he believed Chesapeake would win. “I was a boy of 13 waiting to see Chesapeake, the world’s greatest horse, do his wonders.”

“There were 15 horses in the race, and the start was made at a point across the track from the grandstand--a mile and a half race on a one mile oval. The starter lined up the horses in good order, one man beat a drum to tell the jockeys by sound that the race was on, and another dropped a flag on the track, well in front, to tell the jockeys, by site, that the race had started.”

Winn expectantly kept his eye on Chesapeake. As the horses made the turn for home he saw Chesapeake fall behind.

“Who was that little fellow up in front, shaking off one challenge after another, racing gamely and true to the finish line? Who was this little chestnut whirlwind?

“...That wasn’t Chesapeake that won, was it? I asked father.

“No,” he said, “that was his stablemate. Aristides. And, son, he ran the mile and a half in 2:37 ¾.”

“Aristides isn’t only faster than Chesapeake. He’s the fastest 3 year old in the world. No other 3 year old ever ran as fast as he did this afternoon. That time is a new world’s record for a 3 year old.

“That was my introduction to horse racing, where, at 13, I was to learn so thoroughly that nothing on this earth is quite so unpredictable as a race horse.”


The book is available on Amazon >

Chelsea Niemeier

Chelsea Niemeier

Senior Graphic Designer for the Kentucky Derby Museum.