Jockey Jean Cruguet on Seattle Slew (saddle #3) at the 1977 Kentucky Derby

Jockey Jean Cruguet on Seattle Slew (saddle #3) at the 1977 Kentucky Derby

At the Kentucky Derby women wear ridiculously elaborate hats and heels they regret within the hour. The horses are sleek and strong and beautiful. And, bonus, there’s always bourbon.

When Seattle Slew won the Derby in 1977 (“Seattle Slew ’em in the Stretch”), I was 13. I inhaled Derby coverage. It was a rare celebration of my community. On TV, there was the whoosh-roar of hot air pumping into colorful balloons that I could later see as rainbow dots from my backyard.

On the radio, play by play of a steamboat race pitting the Belle of Louisville, with her red paddle wheel, against some clearly inferior boat from Indiana. In print, two daily newspapers reflecting my hometown alive in a way that came only each May.

Then, as now, national coverage of Kentucky centered on hillbillies and Colonel Sanders. But on Derby Day the press focused on the beauty of the Bluegrass region and the graciousness of its people.

And then, as now, as the camera swept over the track with the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” I choked up.

Grown me sees it was a mostly boozy, vice-ridden spectacle. It was a snapshot of the country’s still persistent class divide with the in-field crowd doing headlong beer slides as elites sip cocktails in the air-conditioned and pricey grandstands.

Still, that press, those captured positive moments, mattered to me as a kid. They gave me a sense of pride of place and they inspired me to a career of capturing moments of my own.

Seattle Slew ’em in the Stretch

By Jim Bolus and Billy Reed
The Courier-Journal & Times, May 8, 1977


An hour or so before the 103rd Kentucky Derby, while the madding crowd at creaky old Churchill Downs was working itself into a typical julep-inspired frenzy, Seattle Slew slept.

His trainer, Billy Turner, stood near the big colt’s stall in Barn 42 and said that Slew always takes a siesta before a race, even one as historic and prestigious as the Derby.

“With all the fanfare, excitement and crowd, we try to keep him as relaxed as possible,” said Turner. “This is just like a heavyweight fighter before a championship fight.”

When he awoke, the beautiful dreamer delivered a solid knockout to his 14 opponents. Sent off as the 1-2 favorite by the crowd of 124,038 yesterday, the son of Bold Reasoning-My Charmer pulled away down the stretch and held on for a solid, if not overwhelming, 13/4 -length victory over a game Run Dusty Run.

Reprinted with permission The Courier-Journal ©.

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