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Spigler knows it's post time

April 30, 1999|By LARRY YANOS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For the past 45 years, Hagerstown resident Oscar Spigler has been in exactly the same place on the first Saturday in May - at Churchill Downs watching the Kentucky Derby.

This year - the 46th - is no different.

Spigler, 84, will be joined today by son Bill and a few friends from the Tri-State area viewing the 125th annual Run for the Roses from box seats overlooking the homestretch at the historic racetrack.

For Spigler, Derby trips from yesteryear bring back great memories.

"It's been a wonderful experience over the years, and my goal now is to attend four more Derbys - that would give me 50," Spigler said before leaving Hagerstown Tuesday morning with Bill for the 550-mile trek. "Physically, I feel a lot better this year than I did last year."

Spigler was battling health problems this time a year ago and didn't get clearance from his family doctor until a few weeks before the Kentucky Derby.

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This year is a different story.

"I'll be rooting them home, just like I have for the past 45 years," Spigler said. "My son and I follow the progress of the Derby horses from January right through now. This is a tough one this year with so many horses running. When I'm in doubt, I'll pick a favorite jockey or trainer."

Spigler likes Adonis and Prime Timber to win, while son Bill favors Kimberlite Pipe.

In tuneup races for the Derby, Adonis won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York, while Prime Timber finished second in the Santa Anita Derby in Arcadia, Calif., and Kimberlite Pipe finished fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

"It's really wide open this year with that many horses," Spigler said.

Son Bill added, "I think there will be a surprise horse this year. Betting the field may not be a bad idea."

Spigler's first Kentucky Derby was May 2, 1953, when he watched longshot Dark Star upset heavily favored Native Dancer.

Before 1953, he often frequented the Charles Town Races and was a patron the first year the West Virginia thoroughbred oval opened in 1933.

By 1953, he was ready to expand his racing options.

"I was tending bar at the Elks' Club in '53, and myself and a few friends decided that we were going to the Kentucky Derby. I had followed horse racing for years, and I decided Louisville was the place to be the first Saturday in May," Spigler said. "We left Hagerstown about 1 a.m. and got to the track in time to see some races. We were at the starting gate as the horses broke for the Derby."

Spigler enjoyed the Derby so much that year that he decided to go again, and again, and again.

"Over the years, I've taken family and friends," Spigler said. "In those early years, tickets were easily available, but the demand now is tremendous. I've watched the race from different parts of the racetrack. Since 1963, I've had a nice boxseat and a good view. It's a great experience."

Spigler's family involvement has included his wife of 65 years, Rita, as well as Bill and daughters Pat, Cathy, Vickie and JoAnne.

Bill has been attending the Derby with his dad since 1986.

Spigler offers a variety of Derby stories.

* " I like to get some value, and I'm always looking for a price horse. In 1982, I liked Gato del Sol, but I didn't have enough money on him. (The winner, ridden by jockey Eddie Delahoussaye, returned winning mutuels of $44.40, $19.00 and $9.40). Here I was touting the horse at the Elks Club and in Louisville, and I didn't have enough on him.''

* "I'll never forget 1986 when (Willie) Shoemaker brought Ferdinand down the rail to win for (trainer) Charlie Whittingham. They have been two of my favorite jockeys and trainers over the years.''

* "I'll also always remember Go for Gin won in '84 and paid a big price ($20.20). I told the guy selling mint juleps that that was a good hunch bet for him. He put $20 on it to win, and we looked stupid because we bet something else.''

Bill's biggest hits have been Unbridled in 1990 ($23.60) and Thunder Gulch ($51.00) in 1995, while Pat cashed big on Winning Colors ($8.80) in 1988.

Over the years, Spigler has brought back to Hagerstown more uncashed parimutuel tickets than he would like to remember. He has also saved admission tickets and glasses.

"We have quite a selection of Derby glasses," Spigler said. "I think we're only missing eight years since I've been going."

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