Humans of the Derby: The faces of Kentucky's signature event

May 9, 2016 at 3:27 pm

Photos by Nik Vechery

The best part of the Kentucky Derby isn’t the mint juleps or the gambling. It’s the people-watching. So for those of you who weren’t able to attend or were just too drunk to remember, LEO descended into the chaos that is the Derby to get a peek at the many workers and attendees of our city’s signature event.

Mike Tomlinson - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Mike Tomlinson

Mike Tomlinson, 62, is from Shelbyville and a trainer at Tomlinson Thoroughbred Training.

“The more horses you have, the better odds you have. There are some trainers out here who have 100 horses in their stables. We only train about 25 horses a year. [...] We did have one horse qualify for the Derby in 2003. His name was Sir Cherokee, but he got hurt between the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby.”

Eddie Clarke - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Eddie Clarke

Eddie Clark, 71, is from Boston and now lives in Louisville where he works as a hot walker for Bradley Racing & Indian Ridge Farm.

“I stayed [in Louisville] because I loved the people. Being on the backside is like being a part of one big family. We got a little church [and] a school with interpreters to teach some of the guys English. We're always taking care of each other back here. [...] I won’t quit until they throw dirt in my face […] I’ve walked probably 4,000 to 5,000 horses, and every one of them had a different personality. But Groupie Doll and Brass Hat were my favorites. [Why?] Because they could run — that’s the most important thing. They were also big babies, they loved everyone that worked with them.”

Doug Spaw - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Doug Spaw

Doug Spaw, 52, of Louisville’s South End, has worked as an assistant track superintendent at Churchill Downs for over 30 years.

“I took over [Danny Pike’s] position after he passed away. [...] Dan used to tell me: You’ve got to place a wager every morning to see what your luck is like for the day. I used to do that, but I don’t anymore. My luck just wasn’t what I would’ve liked it to be.”

Dillon Griffin - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Dillon Griffin

Dillon Griffin, 20, of Jeffersontown, was attending his first Derby as a private first class with the Army Military Police.

“My job comes first, but I can’t complain too much. There’s good weather, and the people are a lot nicer than I had heard they would be coming into this. [Plan on placing any bets?] I don’t gamble. I like to keep my money.”

Right: Jeff Gaona, Left: Michael Gates - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Right: Jeff Gaona, Left: Michael Gates

Jeff Gaona, 45, is a mortgage broker from St. Louis, who has been attending the Derby for over 25 years.

“I came to get drunk and win a bunch of money. So far I’ve lost about $5,500, but horse [No.] eight is about to turn it around for me right now.”

Cameron Flester - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Cameron Flester

Cameron Flester, 15, of Buechel, was cleaning up trash at the Derby for his Boy Scouts troop.

“It’s been interesting, and some of the fashion has really been interesting. [How have the people been treating you?] The people have been pretty nice. They mostly ignore us.”

Deana Ramsey - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Deana Ramsey

Deana Ramsey is from Denver, and she was able to attend her first Derby thanks to a business trip by her husband.

“It’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be, but it’s fun. It’s like dress-up for adults. [How much did you spend on your outfit?] I don’t know if I should say. I don’t want my husband to read this. I spent probably, 3, 4, $700 dollars on my outfit for today, and I’ve been planning it for a month now. [Have you won any money back?] About $30.”

Robert Wood - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Robert Wood

Robert Wood, 31, traveled from New Jersey to the Derby to work, and he said he has probably worked about 80 hours this week.

[So what is your job title today?] Slave.

Curtis Lipsey - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Curtis Lipsey

Curtis Lipsey, 45, is from Chicago and now lives in Louisville.

“Between the Oaks and the Derby, I probably lose about $50 a year. So it’s fair to say, I’m not on top right now.”

Michael Renn - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Michael Renn

Michael Renn, 26, of Louisville, spent the Derby working as a firefighter.

“It’s cool this year because I get to come up here and see how the other half lives. [Does it annoy you to see how much money is spent up here?] Not really. I think it’s pretty cool, and the people here are a lot nice than I thought they were going to be.”

Humans of the Derby: The faces of Kentucky's signature event
Nik Vechery

Humans of the Derby: The faces of Kentucky's signature event
Nik Vechery

Humans of the Derby: The faces of Kentucky's signature event
Nik Vechery

Humans of the Derby: The faces of Kentucky's signature event
Nik Vechery

Humans of the Derby: The faces of Kentucky's signature event
Nik Vechery

Humans of the Derby: The faces of Kentucky's signature event
Nik Vechery

Photo by Nik Vechery - Nik Vechery
Nik Vechery
Photo by Nik Vechery

Humans of the Derby: The faces of Kentucky's signature event
Nik Vechery