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A Curious Derby Round Up!

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Laura Ellis

Every year in the WFPL newsroom, we have a big meeting to plan our Kentucky Derby coverage. And every year, the big question is, how can we cover this event — that everyone already knows all about — in new and interesting ways?

This year, we decided to change the model: you asked us what you actually wanted to know about!

It's part of our Curious Louisville series, our audience engagement project where we ask for your questions about Louisville, and make radio and web stories with the answers.

We called it Curious Derby, and here are the results, all in one place, in case you missed some amidst the hoopla of Derby Week.

How Many Private Planes Fly In During Derby Weekend?

Fred Benz wanted to know, “There are planes parked everywhere, every which way. Small, large, private jets, little passenger planes. The first time we flew in, it was like, ‘Where did they all come from?’” Kyeland Jackson found the answer. Read it here, or listen below.

What's Up With Men's Derby Fashion?

Tyler Franklin, our own visual media producer, is a self-proclaimed Derby cynic. He describes his Derby style as effortless. "In that, I put no effort into it." Tyler wanted to know why men dress the way they do for the Derby. Ryan Van Velzer is our newest reporter. He's attending his first Derby this year and had no idea what to wear. We put the two of them together to find the answer to Tyler's question (and, apparently, to sidebar about fedoras). Read it here, or listen below.

What Happened To Black Jockeys?

Fifteen of the first 28 jockeys to ride Derby winners were black. In fact, in the first Derby, only one rider was white. But that changed, and Veda Pendleton wanted to know why. "I have been interested in black jockeys for a while now and have wondered what happened to them and why. Somewhere along the line, things changed for black jockeys. I have plans to teach my grandchildren about the Derby when they come to my house for Cousins Camp this summer." We actually did some research on this a few years ago, so we updated that story for Veda. Read it here.

Can Animal Lovers Make Peace With Horse Racing?

Most of our Curious Derby questions were fairly lighthearted, but Addison Cramer and Mike Tarsa came to us with something more serious. They're both animal lovers, and they wanted to know how many horses are injured or die in thoroughbred racing each year. The answers were tough to find, so we brought in our data reporter, Alexandra Kanik. The result was a thought-provoking conversation about the mixed feelings Derby can bring for animal advocates. Read it here, or listen below.

What Happens To Retired Race Horses?

After we ran our story about horse deaths and injuries, we got a question from Rob Harris: "What about what happens to racers who are retired, winning and non?" Reporter Ashlie Stevens went out to Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm to find out, and feed some carrots to some retired celebrities. Read about it here, or listen below.

How Do Jockeys Stay In Racing Shape?

After a couple days of horse stories, we turned our attention to the folks on top of them. Specifically, we wanted to know, what kind of physical conditioning does it take for someone who weighs less than 120 pounds to control a thousand-pound race horse, galloping at full speed? Reporter Lisa Gillespie went to a rehabilitation session with an injured jockey to learn more about the physical demands the sport makes on its human participants. Read it here, or listen below.

What's The Origin Of The Call To The Post?

It’s 34 notes in the key of C — no sharps, no flats. And it means the next race is about 10 minutes away. You know it as the Call to the Post. Listener Hannah Zimmerman wanted to know where it came from. So I went out to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum, looking for the answer. Read it here, or listen below.

20(ish) Questions With Bugler Steve Buttleman

The day before I went out to talk to Steve Buttleman about the Call to the Post, I thought I'd ask on social media whether you had any other questions about him and his work. Turns out, you had a lot of questions, and Steve was game enough to answer them all — even the embarrassing ones. Read our Q&A here(and see panoramic photos of inside the pagoda, the tiny house Steve pops out of to play).

What’s The Cheapest Horse Ever To Win The Derby?

A horse named Chocolate Martini ran in the Kentucky Oaks this year. Her owner, trainer Tom Amoss, bought her at a claiming race. That got Tom's daughter's best friend, Elizabeth Jesse, thinking: "They only paid $25,000 for her. So that kind of sparked my curiosity about if there’d ever been a claimer in the Derby.”

I found out for Elizabeth whether any claimed horses had run in the Derby, and what’s the least expensive horse that has run. Read it here, or listen below.

Thanks for all your great Derby questions! Don't forget, we answer non-Derby questions, too, year round. Ask yours in the form below, or at curiouslouisville.org, and subscribe to Curious Louisville wherever you get your podcasts.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.