Kentucky Derby Book author Bill Doolittle knows the racetrack. Bill is a noted horse racing expert, with a specific interest in the Kentucky Derby. In fact, he is the only sportswriter to pick the last four Kentucky Derby winners in a row! Bill’s Kentucky Derby experience doesn’t end at the turf. Over the years, he has learned quite a bit about other aspects – historical, cultural, culinary and social – of the two-minute horse race that has become a two to three week party across the entire Bluegrass State. We had his friend and PR guru, Susan McNeese Lynch interview Bill to get Bill’s take on all things Derby, from furlongs to fashion, betting to burgoo, and juleps to jockeys:
SML: The Kentucky Derby’s length is ten furlongs. But, we’ve got to ask, what exactly is a furlong?
BD: Simply put, a furlong is an eighth of a mile. Not so simply put, it started as a unit of measurement in Old England based on how far a team of oxen could plow a furrow before turning around. The word furlong literally means “furrow-length.” Eventually, the furlong became a standard measurement for tournament play and all kinds of contests. When it transferred to horse racing, I have no idea, but I do know that in 1985, the United Kingdom abolished the furlong, which seems a little harsh to me. Horse racing is one of the few sports that has held steadfastly to the furlong’s reins. The only place known to still use the furlong as a unit of measurement on highway signs and city streets is Myanmar. So, you’ll be in great shape when you go there.
SML: How early do you start shopping for your Derby hat?
BD: My Derby hat is older than I am and I won it in a trivia game in a bar in Old Louisville. It fits fine and gives me shade. Is there any other reason to wear a hat?
SML: I have a friend who always bets horses that have the same initials she has. This year, no horses with her initials are emerging. What should she do?
BD: Change her name.
SML: How do you like your Mint Julep?
BD: Without simple syrup, ice or mint.
SML: What celebrities have you enjoyed seeing at the track during derby week?
BD: Well, American Pharoah has to be tops, since he is the first Triple Crown winner in three decades. But California Chrome had great personality and Street Sense was a real beauty.
SML: Ok, but what about people?
BD: What people?
Special thanks to Susan McNeese Lynch for being our interviewer!