By one definition it's simply the seventh race at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. It is also a rare athletic contest among horses, with the winner receiving roses which won't keep and fame which will. It is the two-minute centerpiece of a social phenomenon which combines the best traditions of horse racing with aspects of a Legion convention, the Mardi Gras and a medicine show. For one day it's a national state of mind, like spring fever. It's the Kentucky Derby—and sometimes the problem seems to be to tell the horses from the hoopla.
In an effort to present the best of both, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED next week publishes its annual Kentucky Derby PREVIEW. As for the horses, the field now entered for the Derby is as brilliant as any in its 83-year history, including not only Federal Hill, Round Table, Missile and Iron Liege—SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's 1954 long shot (SI, Feb.25)—but the favorites, Gen. Duke and Bold Ruler, whose pre-Derby competition portends a classic rivalry like that of Nashua and Swaps or War Admiral and Seabiscuit. Next week our turf editor, Whitney Tower, will be moving them all into the starting gate. As for the hoopla, you'll find much of it in four pages of color photographs of Derby spectators as they prepare to watch the event which only a part of them ever see. In addition, the PREVIEW takes up the subject of the remarkable father and son combination of Ben and Jimmy Jones, the men behind the horses in Calumet Farm's formidable triple-threat Derby entry.
In past years SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has had, beyond its regular staff, some special correspondents to report the Derby. In 1955 it was William Faulkner; in 1956 John P. Marquand. In 1957, in our May 13 issue, it will be Catherine Drinker Bowen, author of Yankee from Olympus, John Adams and the American Revolution and, most recently, The Lion and the Throne. Mrs. Bowen began her writing career by selling an article about her sailboat honeymoon to Yachting. Since then she has raised a family (a son, Ezra Bowen, is a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED staff writer), written nine books. Now between books and undecided on her next, she says, "I want to have some fun first." And Mrs. Bowen agrees that there hardly seems a better place to have it than Louisville next week.