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Derby Day Portraits

     Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, as I did, puts the Kentucky Derby in your blood. But I never attended a Derby. Instead, I watched it on my family’s black and white TV. My father went to the Derby regularly as a reporter for the local newspaper, The Courier-Journal, and I remember the stories he would bring home from his day at the track about a crusty trainer he had met in the barns on “the backside” or the temperaments of some of the more pampered thoroughbreds.  His assignments were always about “the color” of the event, not the race itself. That was left for the sports writers. 

     Attending my first Derby had to wait until I was 49 years old and had lived away from Louisville for many years. It was in 1995. I went there on a lark, with a general admission ticket to make portraits with a heavy professional camera and a flash. The unique character of the event, especially the people who attend the Derby or work there, immediately attracted me. I decided I would return. Over the next 18 years I made it to 12 more Derbies making the photographs you see here. I was after a cross section of the people in and around Churchill Downs on Derby Days: poor kids who park cars in front yards around the track; revelers celebrating in the infield as though it were Mardi Gras; jockeys about to mount their ride or mud-covered at the end of it; and the stylish people in the grandstands as well as the thoroughbred horse owners up on “Millionaires Row.”

Gregory Spaid, 2024

Man in Straw Hat, Kentucky Derby, 2003
Jan Kostanger, Kentucky Derby, 1995
Untitled, Kentucky Derby, 1998
Female Jockey, Kentucky Derby, 2005
Lorraine McCormick, Kentucky Derby, 1998
Officer Long, Louisville Police Department, Kentucky Derby, 2001
Kaye Edsell, Kentucky Derby, 1998
Untitled, Kentucky Derby, 1995
Deirine Wilkerson, Kentucky Derby, 1998
Tanya Chalfant, Kentucky Derby, 1995
Untitled, Kentucky Derby, 2006
Mike Blacketer, Kentucky Derby, 2000
Bruce Roberts, Kentucky Derby, 1999
Untitled, Kentucky Derby, 2005
Niela and her Daughter, S. 6th Street, Louisville, KY, 2009
David Pawley with Engine #10D, Kentucky Derby, 1997
Untitled, Kentucky Derby, 2005
Jennifer Lanke and Heather Hollack, Kentucky Derby, 1998
K. Adams, Kentucky Derby, 2009
Untitled, Rodman Street, Louisville, KY, 2009
Jockey Calvin, Borel, Kentucky Derby, 2009
S. G. Samphasiri, Louisville Fire Department, Kentucky Derby, 1999
Niki Paulus, Kentucky Derby, 1995
Woman at the Rail, Kentucky Derby, 1999
Private Kristen Domke, Kentucky Derby, 2007
Untitled, Kentucky Derby, 2007
Untitled, in the Infield, Kentucky Derby, 2000
Tanya Tucker and her son, Beau Grayson, Kentucky Derby, 1997
Untitled, Kentucky Derby, 2001