Saturday's Kentucky Derby will be Oscar Spigler's 50th

May 02, 2002|BY LARRY YANOS

To Oscar Spigler, they're only numbers. There's 87, his age; 67, the number of years he's been married to Rita; and 50, the number of years, come Saturday, he will have been on hand for the Kentucky Derby.

Spigler, of Hagerstown, plans to be at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., for Saturday's 128th Run for the Roses, an event he's already attended for 49 years.

"I look forward to this every year. God willing, good health, I'll continue going to Kentucky each year," Spigler said as he prepared for his annual 550-mile trek to the Bluegrass State. "I've followed horse racing all of my life. The Derby is always a thrill."


The streak started innocently enough in 1953.

"I was tending bar at the Elks Club, ready to finish up for the night, and one of my buddies said 'Hey, let's go the Derby,'" Spigler recalled. "Before long, four of us hopped in a car and rode 10 hours all night to get to Louisville.

"I can still remember we paid $5 to park, went into the track, and stood near the starting gate. I was hooked from there."

At Spigler's first Kentucky Derby on May 2, 1953, longshot Dark Star upset heavily favored Native Dancer.

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

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

Along on the trip to Louisville that year were three of Spigler's closest friends at the time: Frank Suder, Snake Wilhide and Slim Jordan.

Four years later, Spigler decided to try to buy seats.

"I sent a letter to Sen. J. Glenn Beall through some friends and he helped me purchase a box seat just down from the finish line. It was wonderful," Spigler said. "We kept that same box seat for over 40 years, before the track made some changes two years ago on seat distribution and we were left out."

That was disappointing, he said, "but I have been able to get some seats the last two years."

Spigler has given family members an opportunity to join him at Churchill Downs for the race.

"Rita went one year," Spigler said of his wife, now a resident at Coffman Nursing Home in Hagerstown. "I think she enjoyed it but she would always allow me to take some friends. I always like taking family."

Son Bill, of Waynesboro, Pa., has been attending the first leg of the Triple Crown Series with his dad since the mid-80s.

"He loves it," Bill said. "We go to the track Friday and Saturday. They are long days but he enjoys it."

Spigler's list of family companions to the Derby over the years includes his father, brothers Harold, Warren, David and Gabby, and daughters Janet, Virginia, Joanne, Bonnie, Vickie, Pat and Cathy.

Like many others, Spigler was still looking for the "sure thing" on Saturday.

"I think I'm going with Saarland, Shug McGaughey's horse," Spigler said.

"I'll probably take Saarland straight up and play some exactas," he said.

"I've cashed some tickets in the Derby but the horse I made the most money on was Gato del Sol, a longshot in 1982," Spigler said. "I always like to get some value, and I'm always looking for a price horse. 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.

Some other Derby highlights:

n "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.''

n "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.

This year, Bill also likes USS Tinosa. Named for a World War II submarine, the Ohio-bred will have Hall of Fame candidate Kent Desormeaux aboard.

"I like USS Tinosa but I also bet seven horses in pool 3 of the advanced wagering so I have several horses to root for," Spigler said. "I'll be all over the board."

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