Churchill Downs patron celebrates 75th Derby | Events
From Missy Camp
LOUISVILLE, KY – William H. Camp, Jr., announces that Kentucky Derby 139 will be his 75th Derby at Churchill Downs. Mr. Camp experienced his first Derby in 1934, at the age of 10, sitting on his father’s shoulders on the Clubhouse lawn near the finish line. That was before the first floor Clubhouse boxes were built at Churchill Downs.
“My family’s interest in Churchill Downs goes back to the very beginning,” explains Mr. Camp. “Earl Ruby, a past sports editor at the Courier Journal, once wrote the following about the beginning of Churchill Downs. ‘They [Churchill Downs] sold interest to 320 Louisville residents at $100 each. The $32,000 paid only a part of the construction costs. They had to lease the ground from the Churchills and called on W.H. Thomas, a (whiskey) merchant, to complete the building program out of his pocket.’ This man was my great grandfather Major William Hinton Thomas, CSA.”
At his first Derby, Mr. Camp recalls betting $2 to win on Sir Thomas because that was his great grandfather’s name. Unfortunately, Sir Thomas ran dead last.
“My misguided father didn’t like the races,” comments Mr. Camp. “So 1934 was his last Derby and my first. In spite of Dad, I was bitten by the racing bug. But because of my age, I wasn’t able to get to another Derby until 1938 at the age of 14. I have missed only two Derbies since then. In 1945, after fighting in France and Germany during World War II, I listened to the Derby on the Armed Forces Radio from Munich, Germany. In 1948, I again had to listen to the race on the radio because of exams needed to graduate that year from the University of Virginia. I have been to all 62 Derbies since.”
Mr. Camp’s Kentucky Derby experiences are unique. Over the years he saw the Derby everywhere from tops of fences, to a third floor box on the finish line. The most dramatic was in 1943 when he got his very first weekend pass from the Army. Mr. Camp caught the bus from Ft. Knox. Once he saw the Twin Spires, he stopped the bus and started running. He arrived at Churchill Downs just before the Derby. He bet on Count Fleet and started to climb, ending up on the Clubhouse roof with nobody up there but Private Camp and the newsreel camera men.
Now age 88, Mr. Camp is looking forward to celebrating his 75th Kentucky Derby in style on Millionaire’s Row with his wife and family. Hopefully he’ll be the won with the winning bet.
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