Inside the Kentucky Derby, America's greatest racing party

Kentucky Confidential


Feeling Lucky, We’re Back In Business

The planning begins months in advance for the Kentucky Derby, and if you manage to get there, you take pride in your know-how, discipline and structure. You’re also kidding yourself because the gods of luck are laughing and indifferent to your design.

Horses are talented and they might even be listening to instruction, but other horses are in their way, and so are delicate ankles, illnesses, cranky owners and any number of trips and traps that can leave them fallen by the wayside. Hundreds are nominated to the Kentucky Derby each year, and 20 — some say that’s too many — make it into the starting gate. The ones that don’t aren’t all bums.

We launch our sophomore season of Kentucky Confidential in much the same way as hopeful horsemen, visualizing building on the success of our maiden voyage last year and arriving humbled, in awe and feeling fortunate just to be here. The journey from breeding farm to starting gate, whiz-bang idea to publication, is an arduous one and never what was first expected. How you handle the road ultimately determines the nature of your character, and, with a little luck, success.

Even in its relatively new and expensive corporate clothing, Churchill Downs retains a profound mystique and hides a trunk full of legends and ghosts. The twin spires above the grandstand are like church steeples, calling race fans to worship. We instill in the place Derby Week ideals of hopes and dreams, continuity and renewal. We obsess and argue over the coming of the great race like religious scholars splitting the hairs of a Talmudic passage.

We, the people, make the Kentucky Derby the greatest two minutes in sports.
The mission of Kentucky Confidential from the start has been to try and get close to the heart of the thing, not to explain it away, or knock it down to size. We are surrounded in the Internet age by information sources, and every pebble on the backside is being turned over by someone. We leave the news gathering to them. For us, we take the stories, some old and some new, some funny and others just fascinating. We want to perpetuate the goodness of the Kentucky Derby and poke around its 137-year history because we love what it is and what it stands for.

My partner Jessica Chapel and I have streamlined our approach this year, and shortened the site’s lifespan from two weeks to one, but we believe Kentucky Confidential has a very good chance to get into the winner’s circle.

Our team is credentialed and well-versed: We feature the terrific Claire Novak, the 2011 Eclipse Award-winning writer; as well as Eric Banks, the former editor of Book Forum and a contributor to the Paris Review and New York Times. An inveterate horseplayer steeped in culture, he can speak with equal authority on Holy Bull and Fassbinder’s “Beware the Holy Whore.”

The stunning images are from the Eclipse Sportswire team that includes Bob Mayberger, who also earned an Eclipse Award last year. The sharp turf writers Pete Denk and Steve Bailey are aboard and we can’t leave out our master teller of tall tales, Blinkers Off, who has more Triple Crown experience than the entire team put together.

Kentucky Confidential doesn’t want to look like some snooty, high-toned rag, though; we’re as two-fisted at the window as the slobs living in the motel in the late, lamented HBO series “Luck.”

Our “Smart Money” section stars Kerry Thomas, renowned as “The Herd Whisperer,” a pioneer in the field of equine athletic psychology, and we are thrilled to bring you his exclusive analysis of the Derby field.

Denk and I break down strengths and weaknesses of every jockey in the field and detail what they will need to do to win. Clocker extraordinaire Bruno De Julio and “The Focused Filly” Molly Jo Rosen will provide insights into workouts leading up to the big race.

Finally, on Friday and Saturday, I will go head-to-head with our house ace handicapper “Action” Andy Andrews in picking winners of the biggest races on the Kentucky Oaks and Derby cards. Last year, he gave out Animal Kingdom, while I had Plum Pretty in the Oaks.

Our beautiful new partnership with the Paulick Report makes us feel as sleek as a 3-year-old transferred into the barn of a Hall of Famer.

In his final book, A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former president of Yale and commissioner of baseball, counseled us to take time for paradise. The Kentucky Derby doesn’t last long, and the horses travel by in the blink of an eye. It is an adrenaline concentrate. We, however, have a week to play with beforehand, and, really, what’s the hurry?

Like the Derby horses, we’ve been prepping for months. There’s nothing left to do except pop the latch and see what we’ve got. Hope you enjoy the ride.


Author PhotoJohn Scheinman, a long-time writer and editor, covered thoroughbred racing for The Washington Post from 2000-09. He won the Red Smith Kentucky Derby writing contest for best advance in 2007. He is a correspondent for the Thoroughbred Times. Scheinman also has worked extensively in humor writing and sketch comedy. He lives in Washington, DC. More by  ›