Last January first you could say, in theory at least, that the odds against the 1956 Kentucky Derby winner were 9,010 to 1. On that date 9,010 Thoroughbreds, by agreement among the people who raise them, celebrated their third birthday. By February 15th the odds had dwindled, once more in theory, to 169 to 1, the long end being the number of Derby nominations at that closing date.
By post time this Saturday the theoretical odds, thanks to attrition and the common horse sense which determines scratches, will be down to 16 or 10 to 1—although the actual odds will be something else again, a more accurate reflection of the difference of opinion which, it has been said, makes horse races.
This difference of opinion continues to grow—for horse racing now knows no season, and with more than 25,000 Thoroughbreds running each year, at least one of the almost 100 tracks in this country is in operation every week. These figures suggest why SPORTS ILLUSTRATED doesn't try to see every race every day. SI does aim, however, to be at the right place at the right time to catch the main performance and, in addition, to fill in the background which makes a main performance meaningful.
As preparation for the performance of the racing year this Saturday SI has followed, chapter by chapter, the jockeying for position among the 3-year-olds in Florida, California, New York and Maryland; has visited Kentucky horse country in the spring; has presented the almost legendary Colonel Chinn, a real figure who represents what makes Kentucky traditionally synonymous with horses. And now SI presents the Derby PREVIEW (page 36).
Among special features to come, SI plans a comprehensive look at jockeys, with a special text by Eddie Arcaro on some of the tricks of the track which have made him master of his trade; and a major article on great champions of the past: Count Fleet, Assault, Citation and Native Dancer. And, of course, SI intends, year round, to be at the right place at the right time, wherever they're off and running.
The right place right now is, for sure, Churchill Downs. SI will be there with Whitney Tower and our photographers. An added starter (but no dark horse) will be J. P. Marquand, taking time off from the trials and tribulations of Happy Knoll to report on the facts and fancies of the one event the owners of 9,010 horses on last January first would like most to win—on this or any first Saturday in May.