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Billy Reed: Finally, as the angels smiled, I picked up the credentials for my 53rd Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE – On a gray morning that was cold and drizzly, my son-in-law and I pulled into the parking lot outside the Kentucky Derby Museum. We were there to pick up the credential that would enable me to cover my 53rd Derby next Saturday.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

I had applied earlier in the year, but got no reply from Churchill Downs. I had just about given up when my friend, Darren Rogers, head of the communications department, stepped in and made it happen.

My son-in-law, Rob Frederick, dropped me off outside the Museum and I went inside, where a nice lady pointed me to the Credentials Pickup desk. Everything was in order. Darren was even kind enough to give Rob a credential to assist me next Saturday afternoon.

I looked at the credential and flashed back to when I got my first one. That was in 1966, my senior year at Transylvania University. I was blown away by the size of the crowd, which emitted a mighty roar as jockey Don Brumfield of Nicholasville, Ky., guided Kauai King down the long stretch to the finish line and victory.

I swore that day to not miss another Derby unless it was absolutely necessary. So from then until 2018, I missed only two – Secretariat’s Derby in 1973 because my boss wanted me to pick up a prestigious national journalism award in Omaha, NE, and in 1994, when my daughter and future son-in-law graduated from Duke on Derby Day.

I fell in love with the Derby, and horse racing in general, because it’s a “writer’s sport.” By that, I mean it’s hard to walk around any stable area without tripping over a wonderful human-interest story or two.

During Derby week, I’ve run into rich stories about everyone from the lowliest grooms and hotwalkers to Arab oil sheikhs and Hollywood stars. Add in the beauty of the horses, the romance, and the tradition, and you have a writer’s dream.

I was pretty well resigned to not going this year because I’m 77 years old and have some health issues that make it difficult to get around. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “Why not try to see one more in person?” And so that’s what I decided to do.

Darren Rogers and Billy Reed

After picking up our press credentials yesterday, I went to the Communications Office to get a backside parking pass. I slipped into Darren’s office to thank him and asked somebody to take a photo of us together.

Much to my delight, it went very smoothly.

My plan is a modest one. Beginning today, I will write a column a day for KyForward.com and the NKyTribune, my internet home thanks to sainted editor Judy Clabes and her late husband Gene.

On Derby Day, I hope to watch the Derby from the backstretch, leave the moment it was over, and go home to write my column for next Sunday.

I hope to get out to the track a couple of times during the week, but that will depend on several things, most importantly my health. I will call my longtime friend, Bill Vest, director of security, to get his advice.

I hope it works out as I envision it. It will be a thrill to see the “Run for the Roses” one more time. It will be a sentimental journey, for sure, but most of the memories will be happy ones.

I hope I run into trainer Bob Baffert, a friend since he first came to the Derby in 1996, and maybe D. Wayne Lukas, who doesn’t have a Derby horse but still has a stable on the backstretch.

I hope to see old friends such as Vest; Mark Guilfoil of the Kentucky Racing Commission; turf writer Jennie Rees; and maybe some of the radio and TV folks with whom I’ve worked.

As we left the track, I had a sense of mission accomplished. Now I can only hope the Derby angels smile on me one more time.

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One Comment

  1. Pat Moynahan says:

    I covered sports for a total of 12 years in the 1970s and early 1980s (Paducah Sun-Democrat and Evansville Sunday Courier and Press) before switching to news. Of all the major sporting events I covered – including NASCAR, Indy 500 and UK and Louisville NCAA basketball championships – the only one I still miss every year is the Kentucky Derby. I’m 74 and don’t know if I could still make two or three trips from the press box to the backside on Derby Day.

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