Bill Steigerwald

Mary Simon, 52, a free-lance writer in the horse industry, wrote the 2002 book “Racing Through the Century: The Story of Thoroughbred Racing in America.” She has attended many a Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville as a fan and as a journalist. But today she’ll be watching the 133rd running of the Derby on TV at her home in Lexington, in the heart of the Blue Grass State’s horse country. I talked to her Wednesday about today’s big race and the state of the horse racing industry.

Q: Why is the Kentucky Derby the world’s greatest horse race?
A: Well, it’s debatable that it is the world’s greatest horse race. People in France would argue that the Arc d’ Triumph is the greatest horse race. In England they might say the Epsom Derby is the world’s greatest. In this country, the Kentucky Derby is certainly the most famous, but as far as the world’s greatest? I’d argue with that.

Q: Isn’t this kind of like an all-star race though?
A: It is. Every year the people with the best three-year-olds point for this race and every year you lose some horses along the way to injury, illness or whatever. So very often the Derby is a great spectacle and a great gala occasion, but it’s often that the very best horses aren’t actually in it.

Q: Do you have to be at the Derby to fully enjoy it?
A: Not at all. Not at all. In fact, I watch the Derby at home now, because I’ve been there and done that. I’ve been down in the crowds and it’s just too intense for me. If you’re that kind of person and you like all that excitement and electricity and people pushing against each other and women wearing big hats and half-naked men in the infield pouring beer on each other, it’s a wonderful celebration of Kentucky and a celebration of the thoroughbred. But it was difficult for me to get into the moment when I was there. I’ve been down around the crowd and then I did the press box thing and I felt so detached during the race – you’re above, looking a mile down. They start with “My Old Kentucky Home” and the horses are coming on the track …. Usually when I’m at home watching on television I’m bawling my eyes out. And up there it was like it was on a different planet.

Q: Bawling your eyes out?
A: Yeah, bawling my eyes out -- Boo hooo hooo hooo!!!!

Q: Because of the excitement or because you have all your money on one horse? A: No. The sentiment. When they come out on the track and the band starts playing “My Old Kentucky Home,” it’s just one of these things. If it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye or a lump in your throat, I don’t know ….

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..