Derby Dan

by Ed Meyer

posted on May 17, 2011 in General Discussion, Kentucky Derby | No Comments >>

Run for the RosesEach year a race track has some folks that come out of the woodwork to take part in the rite of spring. They may come and stay for awhile, and some make the run for a few months. But one gent that used to come out and take part will always stick out in my mind.

Derby Dan was about 60-years-young and loved Derby time. He would come out on Oaks, decked out in a wardrobe of bright pants and home made hats. He was the master of ceremonies, and looked like Walt Disney tossed his cookies…. But, he was excited to be there, and he never failed to show.

He never really bet much, and that was just fine. His presence was like a visit from Santa. The way he went around and showed people pictures, and spoke in great detail about how he loved the horses. I always talked to him, but never got to know him. But one year, I made it a point to buy him lunch and talk Derby. It turned out to be one of the best days of my year as well.

Dan loved racing. He lived in Louisville as a boy, and his family never made it to a Derby. His father worked two jobs, and had a jovial demeanor all the while as he raised his three kids, and was a great husband. When the big race came around, he would always make sure he was home in time to see the big race, or listen to it on the radio with his family. It was a time shared, and a day that brought joy to the house. The kids would pick a horse, and so would the parents. If there was a winner, that person got to pick out their favorite ice cream for the family to share. He hated when his father went two-in-a-row, and had to eat butter pecan… To this day, he says you couldn’t pay him to eat some.

Derby Dan was carrying on his family’s tradition. He would go around and talk horses, and trade stories. His costume was loud, and his smile was infectious. One year he had a hat that lit up and turned. He said it took two months to make his science project, but it was worth it. One of the great things that Dan left me with was his love of the race, and celebration of the day. I always loved the sport, but, this hard-core gambler learned a thing or two from a novice. He taught me to appreciate the time more for the value of the winner, and to spread the joy of the horse. He loved the pageantry and beauty. He said his mother loved the way they smelled, as she would go out and purchase fruit from a horse-drawn vendor. Even the plow horse and old nag on the farm deserve love.

As I heard “My Old Kentucky Home” played, the horses took the track for Derby 137. I thought of a man that I met years ago, the way he smiled, and his love for the race. I saw many hats, and the wear of the day would have made Derby Dan proud. So many people celebrating the same thing. I guess he was right, it was way more than picking the winner for money. It was about the horse, and this was his day……