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DERBY DELIGHTS : Two-Year-Old Museum in Louisville Is Paradise for Fans of the Run for Roses

September 17, 1987|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — If you phone the Kentucky Derby Museum and are put on hold you hear a playback of Alysheba winning this year's Derby.

Every day of the year is Derby Day at the Kentucky Derby Museum a few steps from the main entrance to Churchill Downs.

The museum is alive with the sites, sounds, traditions, emotions and dramatic moments of 113 consecutive years of what many consider the greatest two minutes in sports.

The run for the roses is a special two minutes in the lives of most Americans the first Saturday each May.

If you visit the $7.5 million museum you enter a time machine filled with photographs, films, audio-visual exhibits and memorabilia of the history of thoroughbred racing in general and the world's most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby, in particular.

Since the Kentucky Derby Museum opened a month before the running of the 111th Derby in 1985 more than 325,000 men, women and children have seen it. Already it is the most popular attraction in Louisville and one of the most popular places to go to in all of Kentucky.

Most people, who visit the museum, have never seen a Kentucky Derby. Many have never seen a horse race.

Corky Probst, 10, sixth grader from Collinsville, Ill., in the museum with his mother, Jeanie, had never seen horses race. Yet, here he was, bent over the back of a life-size thoroughbred in an electric starting gate used in 18 Kentucky Derbys, pretending what it would be like to be a jockey in the big race.

For the avid racing fan the museum is pure heaven. It's the largest museum devoted to showcasing the thoroughbred horse, the racing industry and the Kentucky Derby, from its first running in 1875.

That was the year 29-year-old Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, owner of a track later named after his uncles, John and Henry Churchill, held a race for championship 3-year-olds, a stakes race he called the Kentucky Derby.

A crowd of 10,000 was on hand. Aristides won the race in 2 minutes 37 3/4 seconds on the same ground trod by Derby winners ever since. It was a mile-and-a-half run in the old days, a mile-and-a-quarter today. Best time ever was Secretariat's 1:59 2/5 in 1973. The purse for Aristides' owner totaled a mere $2,850. Pamela and Dorothy Scharbauer, owner of Alysheba, walked away with $618,600 this year.

In the museum's Great Hall is the Aristides Theater, named after the first winner, where films celebrating the history of the Kentucky Derby are shown.

Suspended from the ceiling of the three-level, 46,000-square-foot museum are banners with profiles, names and winning years of 12 of the greatest horses in the history of the Derby:

Hindoo, 1881; Exterminator, 1918; Gallant Fox, 1930; War Admiral, 1937; Whirlaway, 1941; Count Fleet, 1943; Citation, 1948; Swaps, 1955; Secretariat, 1973; Seattle Slew, 1977; Affirmed, 1978 and Spectacular Bid, 1979.

A spectacular 360-degree sight and sound multi-image show of a typical Derby Day utilizing 96 projectors is viewed on huge panels above the Great Hall which is oval-shaped to represent the famous mile oval Churchill Downs track.

Depicted is the running of the 110th Derby in 1984 won by Swale out of Claiborne Farm, Perris, Ky. The feeling, flavor, color, sound and ambiance of Churchill Downs is captured in sound bites made that day and from thousands of still photographs projected on the panels.

The crowds in the historic green and white grandstand, the longest grandstand in North America. The masses of people in the infield. The beauty of the gardens. The activity in the jockey's room. The playing and singing of "My Old Kentucky Home."

The gates open. The horses race around the track. The result board. The Winner's Circle.

Before the race jockey Laffit Pincay expresses his emotions: "The Kentucky Derby is a fantasy for me, a beautiful feeling, what you like to do best." In the Winner's Circle he confesses: "I asked God to help me win this race. I never asked God to let me win a race before . . . "

Head stones mark the grave sites of three Kentucky Derby winners on the museum grounds, Broker's Tip, who won in 1933, Swaps (1955) and Carry Back (1961).

Broker's Tip won the famous "fighting finish" race when jockeys Don Meade aboard Broker's Tip and Herb Fisher on Head Play were embroiled in a heated slash and pull altercation in the final seconds of the race.

It was the only race Broker's Tip won in his career. The purse was $48,925. Broker's Tip was donated to the University of California Veterinary School at Davis. For more than 30 years after the horse died in 1953 students studied Broker's Tip's bones in a comparative anatomy course.

Jim Bolus, sports writer for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Assn., has a hobby of finding out what happened to Derby winners. He tracked down Broker's Tip's bones. Charles G. Plopper, chairman of the Department of Anatomy at UC Davis' Vet School was contacted and asked if the university would donate the remains to the Kentucky Derby Museum for proper burial.

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