This 1949 film by RKO Radio Pictures details the 75th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs (:42) in Louisville, Kentucky, hosts this Diamond Jubilee (1:02) for three-year old thoroughbreds. The names of each “run for the roses” winner are displayed (1:05), beginning with Aristides from May 17, 1875.
Colonel Martin “Matt” Winn (1:11), president of Churchill Downs, has witnessed every Kentucky Derby. Footage of Derby winners is shown: 1918 Exterminator (1:44); 1930 Gallant Fox, jockey Earl Sande’s third win (1:54); the disputed 1933 Brokers Tip (2:13); and 1941 Whirlaway’s record time (2:24). Colonel Winn meets with his staff (2:41) to choose 20 horses from 113 nominations who paid entry fees: a $50 subscription fee and $1000. There are only 40,000 reserved seat tickets (3:32). The Publicity department bustles (3:34) and the superintendent supervises workers (3:52).
The gold Derby cup studded with diamonds is displayed at Lemon & Son (4:23). A Western Union telegram is stamped “No Reservations” (4:41). The pre-race favorite horse, Olympia, arrives by charter plane (4:44). Ponder, lesser known, eats grass (5:05). Horses run on the track during early morning workouts (5:17), timed by onlookers. A jockey falls off (5:43) as sportswriters interview trainers (5:54). The train blackboard shows on-time arrivals (6:13) as the Texas & Pacific RY (6:20) arrives and passengers disembark. Special Greyhound busses (6:35) and a Trans World airplane (6:41) arrive. Hotel lobbies are full of luggage (6:51) as maids make beds in a dormitory-style room (6:55).
Men, women, and servants read about the Derby (7:11). A betting pool draws names from a hat (7:28). The Pendennis Club’s (7:40) guests arrive. On Derby eve, there are hotel dinner parties (7:48). Sportswriters attend the annual Churchill Downs press party (7:59). Kingsley Walker florists make the winner’s red rose blanket and jockey’s bouquet (8:32). The Kentucky Colonels, a philanthropic organization, dine (8:42). A jug band plays (9:41). Neon signs light the night (9:58). Security checks on the dark stables (10:08) as workers sing acapella (10:20). Dawn arrives on May 7, 1949 (10:37). The Kentucky National Guard (10:49) arrives. H M Stevens food trucks are unloaded (11:02). Mint juleps are served in glasses Imprinted with Colonel Winn’s face (11:14). A horse-drawn wagon (11:26) leaves for the Derby. The gates open (11:47) and boys offer infield stools. Special firemen and policemen go to their posts (12:00) as waiters check in (12:19). A Fort Knox army unit marches (12:24) while outside traffic jams (12:40). Motion picture and TV camera crews set up (13:19). Clem McCarthy now provides the voiceover (13:32). The official brochure (13:36), the 100,000+ crowd, and the jockeys (13:45) getting ready are shown. The bugle call for rider’s up is sounded (14:18) and “My Old Kentucky Home” plays as the horses are loaded into the starting gate. And they’re off! (16:09). Olympia leads until the last turn as Ponder unexpectedly moves from last place to first, winning by three lengths. Ponder’s board is added to Churchill Downs (17:28).
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