Now that this year’s Kentucky Derby is history, I got to thinking back to previous ones, and especially 1958. No horse ever entered the Derby with more publicity than Silky Sullivan in 1958. He used to come from 40 lengths back to win his Derby prep races, and he got even more pre-race press than Secretariat or Seattle Slew. Here, have a look at him.
Turns out the California horses he’d been beating weren’t quite the same caliber as he would face in the Derby, where he closed from 14th and last to finish 12th, ahead only of the lame Flamingo and the exhausted Warren G.
I’ll be eternally grateful to Silky, because the second professional sale I ever made, at age 16, in late 1958, was about Silky’s Kentucky Derby. It was my answer to “Casey at the Bat” and I thought I might share it with you some 56 years later:
SILKY AT THE POST
One hundred thousand people came
To Churchill Downs that day.
The event—the nation’s greatest race;
The date—the third of May.
There was tall and mighty Tim Tam
Walking toward the starting gate;
He’d won seven in a row now,
And was out for number eight.
And Jewel’s Reward, the favorite,
A handsome three-year-old;
He’d won half a million dollars,
And was worth his weight in gold.
And then a hush fell on the crowd,
And from it rose a toast—
For Silky, mighty Silky,
Was advancing to the post.
Flecks of sweat and rain mixed
On his sparkling coat of red.
He viewed the field with proud disdain,
And tossed his perfect head.
Could Tim Tam give his rivals
The lead that Silky did?
Could any runner hope to match
Our Silky’s famed stretch bid?
The horses lined up in the gate.
Fourteen of them there were.
Silky calmly waited;
Not a muscle did he stir.
And then the starter sent them off!
The crowd let out a cheer,
Though Silky, mighty Silky,
Was bringing up the rear.
For now was not the time for speed;
The race had just begun;
He’d wait until the homestretch
To release that mighty run.
They’d gone three-quarters of a mile,
Another half to go.
Then Shoemaker pulled out his whip
And swung it to and fro.
“And there goes Silky Sullivan!”
The race announcer cried,
For Silky, mighty Silky,
Was coming fast on the outside.
Flamingo was the first he caught,
And then came Warren G.
The TV cameras caught this
For all the world to see.
But Tim Tam won this Derby
With a final mighty burst;
While Silky ran the last half,
Exactly like the first.
Oh, somewhere hearts are happy,
And somewhere smiles are broad;
But there’s no joy in Kentucky,
For Silky was a fraud.