"Do you remember my mentioning an unusual experience I had when I was a young man that had an important effect on my decision to return to racing?
"Back in 1927 my father had a 3-year-old named Whiskery who was running in the Kentucky Derby, and I came down to the farm from New York with him and some of his cronies in his private railroad car. At that time I had no particular interest in racing, and I'd never seen a Derby.
"My father used to get so nervous when he had a horse in an important race that he could hardly bear to watch. Sometimes he would just go off and stand all by himself on the backstretch. Well, he finally decided at the last minute not to watch this Derby, so he sent me over to Louisville as his emissary.
"When I got to the track I fell in with a lot of newspapermen and writers like Ring Lardner and Bill Corum and Grantland Rice, who were sitting around a table eating and drinking. At one point I happened to mention that I didn't know what I would say for an acceptance speech if Whiskery should win.
" 'Don't worry, I'll write your speech for you,' Ring Lardner said. He took out a pencil and leaned over and wrote on the cuff of my shirt: 'Whiskery won because his mother was a mudder.'
"As it turned out, Whiskery did win, but I never had a chance to give the speech, because the police couldn't get me through the crowd in time for the presentation ceremonies.
That night, when I got back to the farm, my father and his friends were all playing poker in the private car, so I went out to take a walk and get some air. Off on a hillside in the distance I saw a fire burning, so I walked across the fields to see what it was.
"When I got there I discovered a huge bonfire on the crest of the hill, and dozens of men who worked on the place—they were all colored men in those days—were grouped around the fire singing strange, weird chants I had never heard before. It was almost like some pagan rite.
"In the shadows a few yards away from the fire I saw a horse tethered, so I went up to one of the men, who didn't have the faintest notion who I was, and asked him about the horse.
" 'That's Regret,' he said. In order to celebrate that day's victory in the Derby the men had gone down to the barn and gotten the only other Whitney horse to win it and brought her up on the hill as part of the ceremony.