“He alone made it what it is today.”
So began a 1949 New York Times article by Arthur Daley on the passing of Matt Winn. The article was called “The Passing of a Legend,” and what he “made” is the Kentucky Derby.
Matt Winn, a racing impresario if ever there was one, worked at a dozen or more tracks in his life, but this Louisville native’s heart was always at Churchill Downs. As a boy of 14 in 1875, he saw the first Kentucky Derby, and he saw every one after that until his death in 1949. He hung on to catch the race’s 75th birthday.
William H.P. Robertson, in The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America, called Winn “a Moses who led the sport through trying times”; his business acumen, rather than his passion for racing, led him to join a group that bought the failing Churchill Downs in 1902, and the revival of the race track and the rise of its signature race are often attributed solely to Mr. Winn.
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