Remembering the Run for the Roses: longtime attendee looks back on his best Derby memories

May 8th, 2022

Charles VanDyne has attended approximately 60 editions of the Kentucky Derby. The still-practicing attorney from Ada, Ohio, who has been in his present office for 66 years, is proud to say he is 91 years old.

The decades he’s witnessed the Run for the Roses (he missed one — possibly two — Derbies because of illness) have produced five Triple Crown champions, two 50-1 longshot winners (Giacomo in 2005 and Mine that Bird in 2009), and the only two winners to finish in under two minutes, record-holder Secretariat in 1973 and Monarchos in 2001. VanDyne saw the purse increase from $200,000 to $3 million and the three disqualifications in the 147-year history. He watched the first female jockey, Diane Crump, compete in 1970, and two of the three fillies who have worn the roses: Winning Colors (1988) and Genuine Risk (1980).

While he was in school at Ohio Northern University, VanDyne held a part-time job working at Preston Cemetery, and there he became friends with a funeral director who was also interested in racing.

“We would always talk about going down to the Derby,” VanDyne said. “So finally, we decided it was the year to go. We got away and we went down, and we continued doing that until such time as he died — the year Secretariat won the Derby.”

His first Derby was 1961, won by small, scrappy Carry Back.

“We went out to the farm where the horse had been stabled prior to taking him to Churchill Downs, and I liked him very much, and so I bet on him.”

Two days of torrential rain had left the track in a condition favorable to Carry Back’s reputation as a mudder. He was the 5-2 favorite in a field of 15. Carry Back came from more than 13 lengths back at the top of the stretch for an electrifying win. He took the Preakness S. (G1) and was the favorite in the Belmont S. (G1), where he suffered a minor injury. He recovered quickly and continued a career that made him worthy of Hall of Fame induction in 1975.

“That was my first Kentucky Derby to attend. It all started with that one race.”

His favorite Derby? Secretariat’s 1973 record-breaking win.

“Secretariat is in a class of his own,” he said. “Of all the Derbies that I have seen, there has never been a horse that has come close to equaling his Derby. Talk about wanting to go back. If you would have seen him race, it would settle into you that this was something you would enjoy doing the balance of your life: going to the Derby. I can’t name a horse that would even come close to him. It occupied a position of its own, and I don’t think it will ever be equaled again.”

Now, VanDyne attends with two friends who work in the Hardin County Courthouse.

“We just go to the race and enjoy it,” he said. “It would be wonderful if we could afford to be up on Millionaire’s Row, but we don’t qualify for that luxury. But I’m sure that I enjoy it just as much as the people do up there.”

Today, he watches racing on television most Saturdays and is grateful for his close-knit family of friends.

And to racing fans, he says: “I hope that some time in your life you will get the opportunity to see the Kentucky Derby. It’s a great honor to go.”