Two minutes to gloryPosted: May 3, 2011
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Kentucky Derby this week and found this item in the Ekstrom Reference Collection [Ref. SF357 .K4 B76 2007]:
The first few chapters give an overview of the history and traditions of the Derby, but it’s the second section that caught my eye. For every Kentucky Derby from 1875 to 2006 it gives a two page spread with stats and stories of the big day.
One of my favorite stories tells of the lead up to the 1955 Derby. Willie Shoemaker was slotted to ride Swaps for the big race, but got injured in another race in April. With a swollen knee and a doctor’s recommendation not to ride for three to four weeks, Shoemaker arrived in Louisville determined to race. He and his agent went to a health club to try to soak his knee in a whirlpool, but it didn’t help. Then a young man on the University of Louisville’s football team saw what was happening and offered to try to get Shoemaker into the university’s athletics department where they had a much better whirlpool.
The whirlpool treatment at UofL reduced the swelling and Shoemaker was able to ride in the Derby. He and Swaps won the race by a length and a half. And the young football player who helped him? That was Johnny Unitas.