Inside the Kentucky Derby, America's greatest racing party

Kentucky Confidential


From the Archives: Kentucky Derby Newsreels

Hard at work this year researching in the National Archives, Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker Jeff Krulik came across Kentucky Derby gold — historic footage of the great race in the public domain, culled from the Universal Newsreels. At their zenith, the Newsreels, released twice a week beginning in 1929, were regular features in movies theaters across the country before the rise of television.

It is fascinating to peer back into the past and find that mint juleps, celebrities, big hats and shocking upsets have always been a part of the Kentucky Derby experience. What appears to have changed most is security. Good seats sometimes meant literally being on the track. As always, the horses are wonderful.

Omaha, 1935

“A splendid driving race by the four-to-one shot captures the sixty-first running of the American classic for the Woodward entry in a ding-dong finish as 60,000 wildly-excited spectators leap to their feet in a tremendous ovation to the winner.”

Assault, 1946

“In history’s biggest and richest Kentucky Derby, Assault, an 8 to 1 shot, romps home by a good eight lengths to win the $96,400 purse. Spy Song finished second, while the favored Main Chance Farm entries do not finish in the money.”

Count Turf, 1951

“Outsider wins Derby classic. Count Turf, a 15 to 1 shot roars in a winner in a field of 20. The colt, son of Count Fleet and grandson of Reigh Count, both Derby winners, shows his heels to the field by four lengths and cops a purse of $98,000.”

Dark Star, 1953

“Overwhelmingly favored Native Dancer misses his 12th straight win in the Kentucky Derby. A heartbreaker finish as the big gray comes from behind under solid whipping but can’t quite overtake Dark Star, out in front from the start.”

Iron Liege, 1957

“A spectacular upset marks the Kentucky Derby. Willie Shoemaker aboard Gallant Man misjudges the finish line, stands up in the stirrups, and Iron Liege, closely trailing moves up to win by a nose — the closest Derby finish in 24 years!”

Tim Tam, 1958

“The running of the 84th Kentucky Derby sees the favorite, Silky Sullivan, fail to finish first. It’s Tim Tam — fabulous Calumet’s colt who outruns Lincoln Road in the final yards to win one of the most thrilling races ever run at Churchill Downs.”

Tomy Lee, 1959

“In the 85th Run for the Roses one of the most thrilling in Kentucky Derby history — it’s Tomy Lee! English-bred colt owned by Fred Turner, Jr., Midland, Texas, a cattle and oil man. Willie Shoemaker (another Texan, El Paso) rode Tomy Lee from behind to beat Sword Dancer by a nose. There was some bumping in the stretch — the two leading colts came together at the five-sixteenths pole — on the final turn. A foul was disallowed.”

Venetian Way, 1960

“At Churchill Downs, the 86th consecutive run for the roses, and as usual there’s all the traditional excitement and color of the Kentucky Derby. As usual the unusual happens, with the amazing showing of speed and power by Venetian Way to beat the two top pre-race favorites by an awesome and decisive margin, going away at the finish!”

Proud Clarion, 1967

“Proud Clarion, at 30-to-1 wins $162,000 and the ‘Roses’ in the 93rd running of the Kentucky Derby. National guardsmen patrolled, in case of racial demonstrations. Churchill Downs is treated to a great, driving stretch by the big bay colt from the Darby Dan Farm. He posts the third fastest time in Derby history!”

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THANK YOU ! for posting these old Derby racing news reels. Growing up near Hollywood Park, watching the horses run was a big part of our lives. The whole family would go (grandparents, aunts & uncles, folks and us kids). We followed the ponies thru the Triple races each year and grandpa would collect a quarter from each person who could draw a number from his hat and if your number won the race you collected all the quarters. My grandpa saw Noor run in a match race and never stopped talking about it. He met Whittingham and Shoemaker. I am 62 yrs old and viewing each old race brings back some great memories of not only the horses but those who lived at the time.

Posted by donnac on April 27, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

Which is exactly the reason we put them up there – to spark old memories and to let young folk peer into the past.

Posted by John Scheinman on April 28, 2011 @ 1:30 pm

Thank You, those were awesome films.I loved seeing the change in outfits over the years and the prices. And a $10.00 window.

Posted by William on April 28, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

Great old videos! Interesting to see how the video quality and commentary changes over the years. I love the people running across the infield as the horses race around the track. It looks like such a fun free for all (except for the cops beating people back with their nightsticks).

Posted by pomeroy on April 29, 2011 @ 9:28 am

Author PhotoJeff Krulik is the Washington, DC-based award-winning filmmaker who in 1986, with collaborator John Heyn, took a camera to the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert arena -- the result was the cult sensation, Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Krulik's rapport with his subjects yields some of the best verite documentaries you'll see -- I Created Lancelot Link, Ernest Borgnine on the Bus, Obsessed with Jews, Hitler's Hat. His current projects include Heavy Metal Picnic, about one of the most raucus field parties ever, and Led Zeppelin Played Here, about an apocraphyl Led Zep concert in a Maryland gymnasium on the night of Richard Nixon's inauguration. Visit his website. More by  ›