Thompson From Scanlan’s, June 1970 Welcome to Derbytown I GOT OFF the plane around midnight and no one spoke as I crossed the dark runway to the terminal. Emerging from the tunnel was such a culture shock that it took us a while to adjust. Holy Land, Ralph’s choice, stumbled and lost his jockey in the final turn.The air was thick and hot, like wandering into a steam bath. Mine, Silent Screen, had the lead coming into the stretch, but faded to fifth at the finish. Moments after the race was over, the crowd surged wildly for the exits, rushing for cabs and busses.
It’s a fantastic scene — thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other and fighting with broken whiskey bottles. “We’ll just have to be careful not to step on anybody’s stomach and start a fight.” I shrugged. And since it took about 10 minutes to get from the press box to the Paddock, and 10 more minutes to get back, that didn’t leave much time for serious people-watching. But the “walkaround” press passes to F&G were only good for 30 minutes at a time, presumably to allow the newspaper types to rush in and out for photos or quick interviews, but to prevent drifters like Steadman and me from spending all day in the clubhouse, harassing the gentry and rifling an old handbag or two while cruising around the boxes. The time limit was no problem on Friday, but on Derby Day the walkaround passes would be in heavy demand. By midafternoon they’ll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomiting on each other between races. At the first hint of trouble I’ll start Macing everybody I can reach.” He had done a few good sketches but so far we hadn’t seen that special kind of face that I felt we would need for the lead drawing. The cops and the National Guard have been getting ready for six weeks. They warned us — all the press and photographers — to wear helmets and special vests like flak jackets. Thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. ”) So the face I was trying to find in Churchill Downs that weekend was a symbol, in my own mind, of the whole doomed atavistic culture that makes the Kentucky Derby what it is. “We’ll go native.” Derby Morning It was Saturday morning, the day of the Big Race, and we were having breakfast in a plastic hamburger palace called the Ptomaine Village.