Hanging on the Backside

There was a media reunion going on over at the Churchill Downs backside this morning, and I had a great opportunity to reminisce with a few folks who remember what it was like before all this stuff — when there was no “radio row” on the backside and the only people over here were the serious racing journalists and Horsemen.

Look! It's Twinspired between the Spires

Today, despite chilly temps, hundreds of people walked around the stables, cameras at the ready, watching for Derby Horses or, better yet, somebody like Bob Baffert. You can walk right up to Nick Zito’s barn and wait — to see if Zito comes by or if Dialed In goes for a walk.

Wayne Perkey was there, doing radio with Kirby Adams and Troy Roebuck. He pulled Karl Schmitt, the former Churchill Downs publicity director, in for a talk and little did I know I was with two of the main reasons the Backside has become such an attraction. Back in his days as the WHAS Radio morning man, Perkey was the first to broadcast from the site, a feat accommodated by Schmitt, now director of the Louisville Sports Commission.

I also ran into Billy Reed, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on coverage of the Kentucky Derby, who told me about the good old days when enterprising journalists had free rein of the barns and could supply readers with actual scoops. There were no TV cameras or crowds around every Derby trainer.

But it’s still a fun way to spend a morning, and it’s easy to get a glimpse of the Derby Horses and trainers.  There’s no charge, and anyone can walk in Gate 8 and join in. Parking is a challenge, but you can take a free shuttle from Papa John’s Stadium or park on one of the side streets.

Plum Pretty, Bob Baffert's Oaks entry.

And OK, how about some name-dropping? Attorney general Jack Conway, famous for the steel trap memory in which he can recite the names and connections of Derby winners, had a small entourage in tow. Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day and Jockeys Guild manager Darrell Haire, both promoting Saturday night’s Galt House party  (Haire told me Jerry Bailey is coming). Tim Laird, the chief entertainment officer for Brown-Forman, was working up drinks.

And of course every local TV station, and at least a half dozen radio stations, were doing live broadcasts.

No, I don’t have any better idea who’s going to win. But I did overhear turf writer Marty McGee talking up Santiva, and I got that photo of Twinspired.  And I saw Archarcharch, who looked really good on the track.