Better Lucky Than Good: History, Tall Tales and Straight Talk from the Backside of the Track

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Grooms, hot walkers, exercise riders, foremen, assistant trainers, jockeys, a clocker, a gap attendant, an outrider, a track kitchen worker, a gate rider, a pony person, a silks seamstress, the chaplain,  a leather worker, a security guard, and touts document life on the backside of Churchill Downs racetrack in this wondrous 300+ page book. Coming in November 2019!

Churchill Downs is the epicenter of Kentucky’s equine heritage and the most storied racetrack in the world. More than a thousand workers come to the backside of Churchill Downs on any given day during a meet. Before sunrise, seven days a week, stable hands, hot walkers, grooms, outriders, jockeys, and more tend to the well-being of the horses and the track. Most will never stand in the winner’s circle, but, every year, like clockwork, a handful of stories are written about these workers in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby. The invaluable support they provide the racing industry is justly highlighted, and for a brief moment, their faces grace the folds of the newspaper, and their voices and stories are heard. Like the Derby itself, though, this focus is fleeting. It’s over as soon as it has begun.

Sometimes, slower is better.

It takes time and care to know someone well, and to understand where they are from. That’s why the Louisville Story Program is engaging equine workers in a collaboration that will lead to the most caring, in-depth look into the lives and stories of equine workers ever published. Through intensive collaborative editing, we are developing an extraordinary document of South Central Louisville and the equine industry there, written--from the inside out--by those who live and work on the backside. In addition, the book will be filled with narratives that will contextualize South Central Louisville as one of the city’s most significant, but also overlooked neighborhoods.

Participants include grooms, hot walkers, exercise riders, a former track superintendent, a clocker, a gap attendant, an outrider, assistant trainers, jockeys, a track kitchen worker, a gate rider, a pony person, a horticulturist, a silks seamstress, the backstretch chaplain, foremen, a leather worker, a security guard, touts, trainers, a farm manager, and many more.

We have been working on this project since October 2016, and will publish the book in November 2019.


Photo by Ben Freedman


Photo by Clarke Otte