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Looking Back On Decades Of Kentucky Derby Memories

The Kentucky Derby 2018 at Churchill Downs.
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin
The Kentucky Derby 2018 at Churchill Downs.

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The 145th Kentucky Derby is here, attracting more than 150,000 people to Churchill Downs. As Louisville prepares for the most exciting two minutes in sports, we asked In Conversation listeners for their greatest Kentucky Derby memories.

Some residents, such as Sweet Peaches owner Pamela Haines, remembered days her family didn't go to the Derby. Her family threw Derby parties, gathering friends and relatives and betting on horses. Haines said her most memorable Derby was when her mother won a bet on future Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew in 1977, using her earnings to buy Haines and her siblings new bikes.

Susanne Busse recalled when her fiance attended the Derby with her in 1973. Busse’s sister offered them a chance to watch the race from seats near the finish line. They rushed to Goodwill for presentable clothes and arrived to watch one of the most iconic Kentucky Derby races in person.

“He had never been to any horse race in his whole life, and we sat there and, believe it or not, watched Secretariat win,” Busse said. “And I turned to him and I said, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this in horse racing.’”

Four years before Secretariat's win, the 1969 Derby was a tumultuous time in the nation. In Louisville, University of Louisville students protested for black rights outside Churchill Downs. Prominent politicians including President Richard Nixon — the first, and only sitting president to ever attend the Derby — were there for the race that year, stirring a confrontation that historian Emily Bingham captured in a Louisville Magazine article.

“These two forces were coming from extremely different points of view on issues of race, on issues of civil rights legislation, on issues of student protest,” Bingham said. “The Derby was their meeting point.”

Join us next week on WFPL’s In Conversation as we discuss immunizations and disease outbreaks in Kentucky.

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