Sportsnet Road Trip: An introduction to America at the Kentucky Derby

Seattle Slew crosses the finish line to win the 103rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., in May 1977. (Photo: AP Photo/File)

1977: I DROVE down to Louisville with my college roomie, Tevi, an Israeli who had never been to the U.S. I figured the Kentucky Derby would be an effective introduction to American culture. We bought the cheapest tickets—$15, entry into the infield, no seats. We stepped over the bodies of revellers mint-juleped and smuggled-mickeyed into unconsciousness to find a place by the rail. Of the 150,000 at Churchill Downs, 40,000 could see the race.

The infield was exactly as Hunter Thompson described it: “Total chaos… No booze sold out here, too dangerous… no bathrooms either… many cops with riot sticks.”

We saw 15 seconds of the race on the first turn, 60 hooves, a cloud of dust.

“All that for that,” Tevi said as the horses ran out of view.

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A crescendo built and finally we heard above the din: “Easing at the wire, Seattle Slew.”

Then, from the first turn, we could see Slew, slowed to a canter. Slew lingered in front of Tevi and me.

“He doesn’t look like the others,” Tevi said.

Slew didn’t. Shining. Glowing. Every muscle and sinew popping. Even in repose, Seattle Slew, soon to be a Triple Crown winner, was the most perfect athlete I’ve ever seen.

This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Sportsnet magazine.