Horse racing fans all over the world are tracking the odds for the horses expected to compete in the 144th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5. But a group of public officials, South Louisville residents and racing executives kicked off the 2018 Derby season last week by remembering the biggest long shot in the race’s history.
Legendary jockey Roscoe Goose won the 39th Kentucky Derby in 1913 aboard Donerail, a horse with 91-1 odds. Goose still holds the record for winning with the longest odds in the races history. The biggest Derby winner in modern times, 2009’s Mine That Bird, had 50-1 odds.
Last week, Goose’s family members, Mayor Greg Fischer, and District 15 Metro Councilwoman Marianne Butler unveiled a marker honoring the jockey and his win at his former home at 3012 S. 3rd St. The home itself was declared a historic landmark in 2015.
The request for the state historical maker was made by South Louisville resident Stefanie Buzan, author of “A View From the Top,” and Savannah Darr, Louisville Metro Planning and Design Coordinator. Butler, who represents part of South Louisville, paid for the maker.
Mike Shea is Goose’s grandnephew, a descendant of the jockey’s sister Catherine. Shea said he is not sure what Goose would have made of all the honors because he was such a humble man.
“I didn’t realize what he had done until I got older,” Shea confessed. “The whole family was into racing. His brother Carl won the Kentucky Oaks the same year Roscoe won the Derby. As a kid I’d use to get excited when Roscoe was around because he would give every child in the room a silver dollar. He never really talked about his accomplishments.”
Churchill Downs Vice President of Racing John Asher credited Goose’s victory with starting the process that transformed the Derby from a regional race into the international phenomenon it is today.
“His win was the start of a three-year period that earned the Kentucky a lot of national and international headlines. After Roscoe’s long shot, Old Rosebud came in and set a course record that last more than a decade. Then in 1915, Regret became the first filly to win the race. All of that caused a lot of excitement and increased attention on Churchill Downs and the Derby,” Asher added.
Goose was the first Louisville native to win the Kentucky Derby. He was born into a family of horsemen in 1891. The family name was originally Ganz, but the spelling was changed. Goose began riding at county fairs. After becoming a professional jockey, he raced at Churchill Downs and the defunct Douglas Park track. He competed in his first Derby in 1908.
The long odds for Goose’s Donerail came about because of a change in waging that Churchill Downs President Matt Winn made in 1911. Winn instituted Parimutuel betting, a system in which all bets of a particular type are placed together in a pool. That meant all of the bettors themselves decided the odds rather than a bookie, which is the way race betting is still done in England.
A $2 ticket on Donerail would have paid $184.90. Goose and his brother used their racing winnings to buy the house on South Third Street for their mother. Unfortunately, she died in a small fire in the home. Carl died a few years later in a racing accident. Goose’s own jockey career ended an accident in 1918. In total, he had 135 victories and 12 wins in stakes.
After his jockey career was over, Goose went on to make millions as an owner and trainer. He was president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and in the inaugural class of inductees to the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. He lived in the South Third Street home until his death in 1971. He was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.
Author Earl Ruby wrote a biography of the jockey entitled, “The Golden Goose: Story of the jockey who won the most stunning Kentucky Derby and then became a millionaire.”
Goose is also mentioned in a biography of African-American jockey Jimmy Winkfield. Winkfield won two Derbys before racism forced him to race in Europe. In “Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield,” author Ed Hotaling relates a story about Winkfield being denied entrance to a National Turfwriters’ Association banquet at the Brown Hotel in 1961. Winkfield and his daughter finally able to get into the hotel, but everyone at the banquet ignored him except for Goose. There is a famous photo of the two jockeys sitting together.
“Roscoe really did represent best qualities in both sports and life,” Asher said. “I am so glad he is getting the recognition he deserves.”