Kelly’s Derby Pick a Sucker Bet

Damon Runyon

Wilkes-Barre Evening News/March 12, 1934

Mr. Marcus Aurelius Kelly, the well-known Red Headed Rooster of the Arroyes, and sports editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, has been sending me a tip on a hot horse in the Kentucky Derby, which takes place at Marse Winn’s horse track down in Looeyville way early in May.

I judge from the extreme naivete with which Mr. Kelly presents his tip to me that he has some idea I am ignorant of horses. He apparently is wholly unaware of the fact that my middle name is Horse, and that I have a copyright on March tips on the Derby. He passes his horse on me with the manner of a slicker doing a sucker a favor.

I have read the name of the horse presented to me by Mr. Kelly backward and forward, and I make nothing of it. I have submitted this name to many of our foremost citizens interested in the Improvement of the Breed of Horses, including The Dancer, The Singin’ Kid. The Warmup Judge, Long Boy, Tommy Francis, The Owl and numerous others, and they all insist that Mr. Kelly cannot mean a horse. They think he is mentioning the name of a prescription for eczema.

But I have read Mr. Kelly’s last letter over again, and am sure that he is talking of an equine when he tells me that Riskulus is the good thing. He even asks me as a personal favor to him. to get down in the future book on Riskulus at a 40, 20, and 10. I shook the envelope containing Mr. Kelly’s letter very carefully, but nothing fell out to substantiate the request, and I have since been wondering what Mr. Kelly expected me to get down with. Doesn’t he know that a race meeting is in progress down here?

Wising Up Mr. Kelly

Now I have no doubt that someone out on the West Coast told Mr. Kelly that Riskulus is a good thing in the Derby. Mr. Kelly is not a fellow to go thinking up horses out of his own head, especially horses named Riskulus. But his is a confiding nature, and he believes what he is told, instead of first coming to his pals for advice.

I never thought to bring it up again, but someone told Mr. Kelly last Fall that Stanford would beat Columbia, and he accepted the statement, whereas, if he called me up, or dropped me a line, I would have set him right. I hope and trust that it isn’t too late to straighten him out on the Derby. I have not as yet taken up the matter and decided on the Derby winner, but I can assure Mr. Kelly that it will not be Riskulus.

I will not deny that Riskulus is entered for the Derby. Indeed, I am informed that he is. Moreover it seems to be the firm intention of Riskulus’ owner, that eminent Pacific Coast turfman Mr. Norman Church, to let the steed run in the Derby, and with the moral support of Mr. Kelly to encourage him—or could it be her?—there is no reason to suppose that Riskulus will not run very heartily. But it is extremely improbable that any horse can carry 126 pounds and Mr. Kelly and win the Blue Grass Stake, unless it is a super-horse.

The last super-horse we had in the Derby was in 1932, when Twenty Grand carried his Derby weight and both Mr. Bill Corum and myself, and won. That really made Twenty Grand a super-super-super horse.

Time Supply a Factor

We have a job lot of beetles down here that are entered in the Kentucky Derby, but the more they race in these parts, the less most of them look like Derby horses. Many of them are winding up in claiming races. Mr. Bob Smith, the veteran trainer of Mrs. Dodge Sloane’s Brookmead stable told me the other day that he had held High Quest out of the Derby for the Belmont stakes, but is sending several others to Kentucky, including the English-bred Cavalcade, and if it comes up mud Derby Day, Cavalcade will be a contender.

Big Jim Healy, who trains the great Futurity winner Singing Wood, owned by Mrs. John Whitney, said the other day that the horse hasn’t been withdrawn as yet from the Kentucky staker. The youthful Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who has just come into all that dough, and who has been mobilizing a racing stable, will be represented in Marse Winn’s heat by one or more steeds.

Colonel Edward Riley Bradley, who won a hatful of Kentucky Derbies, has been running a horse called Boy Valet down here that is entered in the Derby, but the Colonel undoubtedly pins his hopes this year on his filly Bazaar. Many turfmen think this Derby will be won by a filly for the second time in its long history—either by the Colonel’s mar’ or Mata Hari, that swift thing from the West.

But, of course, they are all waiting impatiently for General Runyon’s decision. I have agreed to report by mid-April. I wish I could hold out some hope to Mr. Kelly, but all I can say is that if he must know, I can get him a better price that he asks around the corner.

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