Writer-Reporter Demmie Stathoplos, who assisted Writer William Nack with the Kentucky Derby story that starts on page 30, began to cover horse racing for SI in 1972. The next year she found herself watching a big chestnut colt named Secretariat run to a 2½-length victory in the Derby. Two weeks later in Baltimore she saw him win the Preakness by 2½. Then, on June 9, she saw him triumph in the Belmont by an astounding 31 lengths.
So has it been all anticlimax on the racing beat since then? Not quite. In 1977 Stathoplos watched Seattle Slew win the Derby. And the Preakness. And the Belmont. In 1978 Affirmed did the same. Again Stathoplos was there. "It seemed to me that there were going to be Triple Crown winners all the time," she says. "After all, I'd seen three of them in six years."
"There can't be many people who have witnessed three complete Triple Crowns, all nine races," says Senior Writer Bill Leggett, who has been hanging about racetracks since he was six and ought to know.
Stathoplos was raised in Manchester, N.H., and though she did display the usual pre-adolescent fondness for horses—"I talked my father into paying what he considered the outrageous price of $5 for a couple of riding lessons," she says—her main sport was swimming. (She's also our swimming reporter and has written pieces on subjects as diverse as bush-league jockeys and synchronized swimming.) Every day in winter she would trudge through the snow down several steep Manchester hills to the YWCA pool. In summer she would trudge half a mile up a steep hill to swim in an abandoned granite quarry, rumored to be bottomless and known to have swallowed any number of wrecked cars.
Stathoplos went on to major in English lit. at the University of New Hampshire, where she didn't join a sorority—"Why bother? I was already Greek," she says—but did play lacrosse and work nights as a disc jockey at the school radio station, WMDR.
No one at SI can match Stathoplos at one-liners, but she's a good listener as well, a trait she uses to advantage when touring the backstretch. "Demmie's a very good interviewer," says Leggett, who has worked many a race story with her. "She listens to a trainer talking to a group of reporters and then gets him alone later and asks, 'Please explain this,' or 'What did you mean by that?' She's very good at making the expert clear to the layman."
Stathoplos has a slightly different view of her work. "I love covering horse racing," she says, "because it takes all your wits to figure out which trainer is lying to you totally and which is feeding you half-truths. Of course, trainers have to be good liars. Why give your secrets away to the guy in the next barn? Does Macy's tell Gimbels?"
Of last week's Derby, her 12th, Stathoplos says, "I couldn't see it for the umbrellas." She bet the winner, Sunny's Halo, but probably to Stathoplos the new champion will never quite rate with the first winner, Aristides, in 1875. "That's my oldest brother's name," she says. "But we call him Harry."
Her brother. Not the horse.
STATHOPLOS HAS SEEN A SLEW OF CHAMPIONS