More than 150,000 people fill Churchill Downs every year to watch “the most exciting two minutes in sports:” The Kentucky Derby. Attendees often learn about the traditions of the commonwealth and its love for horse racing. But a new book published by the Louisville Story Program tells some of the stories that often go unheard: the stories of those who make up the Churchill Downs backside community.
The book, “Better Lucky Than Good: Tall Tales and Straight Talk from the Backside of the Track” includes oral histories from grooms, exercise riders, kitchen workers and others who have lived around horse racing. It took three years to finish the book, painting an in-depth portrait of workers’ passion for horses and of what it’s like to live in the shadow of Churchill Downs.
The horse racing industry has come under more scrutiny in recent years. An investigation by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed the state’s horse racing commission withholds details of horse racing deaths. After the investigation and an appeal to the state attorney general, the commission said it would release those details. The on-track deaths of dozens of thoroughbreds at California’s Santa Anita racetrack over the past year have also spurred calls for tougher restrictions on racing.
WFPL’s In Conversation talked with participants in the Louisville Story Program’s book about their experiences, what has changed, and their thoughts on horse racing.
- Sylvia Arnette, proprietor of Syl’s Lounge, who grew up the neighborhood near Churchill Downs called The Hill;
- Paul Goffner, retired groom;
- Joe Manning, deputy director of the Louisville Story Program.
Listen to the pre-recorded In Conversation episode on 89.3 WFPL Friday at 11 a.m.