This post, the 201st on A View to Hugh, comes from the keyboard of contributor Jack Hilliard and is prompted by 137th running of the Kentucky Derby—post time this Saturday at 6:24 E.D.T. Photographs cropped by the editor.
It has several names. Some call it “The Most Exiting Two Minutes in Sports.” Others call it “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.” And then there are those who call it “The Run for the Roses,” because the winner is presented a lush blanket of 554 red roses. It is the first jewel in thoroughbred racing’s triple crown and is held the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Of course, it’s the Kentucky Derby.
In addition to the race itself, a number of traditions play a part in the Derby atmosphere. The Mint Julep, an iced drink consisting of bourbon, mint and a sugar syrup is the traditional beverage of choice at the race. Burgoo, a thick stew of beef, chicken, pork and vegetables is also a favorite Derby dish. As the horses are paraded before the grandstands, the University of Louisville Marching Band plays Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.”
“Millionaire’s Row” is the name given to the expensive box seats that attract the rich, the famous and their guests. And that’s where we find Hugh and Julia Morton on May 7, 1977 . . . special guests at the 103rd running of the Kentucky Derby.
124,038 people jammed into Churchill Downs that spring day to see the best of the best run the famous mile and a quarter.
“Hugh took pictures from the finish line while I sat in the box,” said Julia Morton in a recent email. Hugh’s photographs from that day would later take on extra meaning because on that day the winning horse was Seattle Slew, who would go on to win the “Preakness” and the “Belmont,” thus becoming the tenth horse to win the Triple Crown and the only horse to do it with a perfect winning record. Only once since 1977 has there been a Triple Crown winner.
So on May 7, 2011, 34 years to the day, that Hugh Morton photographed Seattle Slew’s winning run, and 9 years to the day that Seattle Slew passed away peacefully in his sleep at age 28, the 137th Kentucky Derby will be staged . . . and once again Churchill Downs will become the center of the Thoroughbred Racing World.
“Hugh saved the two dollar tickets on Seattle Slew instead of cashing them, got a friend to buy tickets on the other two Triple Crown races for him, and planned to frame them with his picture of Slew. (Like a perfect bridge hand),” said Julia Morton. Then she added, “but he never got around to it.” That framed shot of Seattle Slew may not be available but the Morton pictures from the 1977 Kentucky Derby are preserved in the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library on the UNC campus.