"It was my 20th Derby," Senior Editor Whitney Tower observed last week, "and at the time it was the smoothest I'd ever covered." Tower's 20th and Churchill Downs' 94th Kentucky Derby, seemingly such a neat package, began to come apart even before the roses started to wilt, and suddenly Whit found himself back in the starting gate. He has been running—and writing—ever since. His story this week begins on page 18.
When Whit closed his account of the Derby he was looking forward to two consecutive days off, the first in some three weeks. The next afternoon he was hit with the news that Dancer's Image had been disqualified, and on the Wednesday after the Derby he and Photographer Jerry Cooke were back in Louisville. Whit recalls that "We spent Thursday talking to the stewards and all concerned and then tried to get to Baltimore to look at the horse; but there was no plane space and we had to go to New York to get to Baltimore. We saw the horse and caught a plane back to New York on Friday morning. I wrote the drug mystery piece [SI, May 20] on Saturday, finishing about 5 Sunday morning. Then there was a brunch at Belmont—another story—before I went back to Kentucky for the hearings and stood around for three days."
The hearings began at 9 a.m. May 13 and lasted until midnight May 15. The press was barred from the room, and for the three days, as Whit reports, "We weren't told one word"—which somehow did not prevent Whit from finding out a few things. "Tuesday the hearings lasted from 9 a.m. until 2:06 a.m. the following morning. We did a lot of standing about in doorways." That was because there was no place to sit. "Finally we screamed and we were given some benches, but when the track's regular patrons appeared they took them over and we were standing again. We ate hundreds of sandwiches wrapped in cellophane and sort of talked about the idea that a pin should be made for all the guys who survived. It was the kind of thing where you couldn't even tell when it might end. I was staying at an airport motel and each day I would check out—I have bills for four different rooms. I got back to New York on Thursday morning, went home to unpack and pack again and then went to Baltimore for the Preakness. Friday morning I got out to the track at dawn...." At this point Whit was asked how he felt. He said he felt tired.
Tower has said, "I didn't come into this field because I was crazy about horses. I came into it because I was crazy about writing." One of these days, when he is rested, we are going to point out to him that this whole episode has provided him with extra writing to do and that he has been very lucky. He has received two awards already this year, one from the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association and one from the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, so he really needed an extraordinary assignment to give him the opportunity to top himself. We will point all that out to him, and then perhaps what we will do is duck.