A Groom with Nearly No Name – Derby Death Dignified

Ten hours after the 138th Kentucky Derby Guatemalan groom Adan Fabian Perez, 48, was found dead in a stable barn only metres from the trackside where I’d spent the day watching the races.

I left the country the following day, if I’d stayed I’d have helped the Perez family by writing a serious companion piece to the gonzo-lite look I took at American life.

In the end I didn’t have to: in fact, couldn’t have done it any better than this; Johnette Howard’s extraordinarily compassionate piece of sports journalism.

Against all odds, she managed to restore the dignity of Mr Perez’s life in death and for the family he left behind.


Booze, Bets, Oh and a Horse Race too…The Kentucky Derby

The 138th Kentucky Derby – The View from the Backside.

A red-stitched baseball cap wearing man named Jamie swigged a Miller High Life and said, ‘I’m going to pace myself to three or four beers an hour.’ He was the favorite to fall first. An internal sweepstake had him pegged to go by 12.34pm. His wife Sophie, who wasn’t wearing a hat, knew better. She drawled confidently under her breath with more than a hint of pride that, ‘thatt mahn cahn ruhn and ruhn’. She should’ve saved her breath. All bets were off for this unofficial first race of the derby. A cool skinny white man wearing a basket weave flat cap and a Casio digital watch was already unconscious. Cliff was out like a light. His head slumped back awkwardly into a camping chair caught in the shade of the gazebo. LCD digits dangling out from under the sleeve of his charity shop seersucker Prada jacket said 08:59am.

Thumbing through the centimeter thick program for the day there were thirteen races to lose our hard earned money on. Betting systems varied; Lana, not wearing a hat, chose every horse with a turquoise saddle-cloth, I, wearing a joke plastic jockey hat with taped on black goggles, very sensibly went off previous form. Others in the group of friends even more sensibly closed their eyes and jabbed at the page with a pen. Jamie piped up that nobody had ever won out of gate nineteen. Nobody paid him much mind. He shrugged, drained another bottle of High Life and trotted off in hairdryer heat to place his bets. He was not alone. The ‘greatest two minutes in sport’ as the main race is known globally or more locally as the ‘Race for the Roses’ attracts c160,000 spectators to Churchill Downs and 15m television viewers. It is the oldest continuous sporting event in American history and carries with it a $2,000,000 prize tag for the winner. Punters’ bets totaled from all sources were expected to reach a record $187 million.

The odds and sods inside the track pan out like this: the rich and famous fill up the iconic two spires main grandstand; the hedonistic beasts slug it out in the in-field until bourbon, mint julep cocktails or the heat take them down; if you own a horse, or belong to the itinerant Latin American community of stable hands or are lucky enough to know someone that works at the track you can get, where I was now residing seventy bucks lighter, into the backside.

‘No side like the backside,’ said Graham, wearing a straw top hat and aviator shades, ‘It’s the best place to be. You don’t have to get dressed up, you can bring in enough supplies to eat like a horse and drink like a fish all day long.’

The friends I was with were spectacular to this commitment. They were a loving bunch who’d stuck to each other over the years by a bond much stronger than all the drinks at all the derby days ever run.

Most of us had hit the hay by mid-afternoon. A bi-plane moaning a message across the sky woke me up.

‘What’s it doing?’

‘A circle…’

‘An eyebrow…’

‘A smiley face….’

‘A cloud smiley face…’

In the shade of the stables horses hung their heads over saloon doors cooling themselves on electric fans. At the end in a dormitory room half the size a Mexican family watched the races live on a small television fixed up onto the wall.

‘We love the horses,’ said the black baseball cap wearing Padre, who didn’t want to be identified, ‘There is a great tradition of cowboys in our lives. We invented the cowboy through the vaqueros and Spain. Horses are in our blood.’

Outside in early evening sun a loose coherence suddenly came across the crowd as the state anthem My Old Kentucky Home injected anticipation and offered some semblance of order into the atmosphere. In the small spectator stand, a man wearing a white cap with Breeders Cup embroidered on the back sucked heavily on cigarette. Worked to the bone, his weathered body swayed precariously as he climbed to his feet on his seat. He was too zonked to sing along to Stephen Forster’s old slave lament song instead he swayed and  blew out a hard line of smoke that fumigated the crowd.

‘Put that thing out,’ screeched a woman wearing a tennis brim right into the back of his head, ‘for the love of God you’re killing us.’

Another man, wearing a grey baseball cap complete with earpiece, binoculars and a video camera pointing at the first bend took it upon himself to become the race commentator.

He started saying, ‘Bodemeister. It’s Bodemeister. Still Bodemeister…’ long before we saw any action on the track. Then suddenly the thundering hooves of nineteen thoroughbreds appeared with boy-men jockeys jammed on top.

‘Bodemeister, Bodemeister, Bodemeister,’ continued the opportunistic commentator.

‘Bodemeister, Bodemeister, Bodemeister, BODE- I’LL HAVE ANOTHER has won. I’ll Have Another RIDDEN BY MEXICAN JOCKEY MARIO GUTIERREZ HAS WON!’ he exploded.

‘Unbelievable,’ said Jamie, ‘That’s the first time I’ve picked the derby winner. I want another beer.’

Why Work with a Writer?

Dear You,

You might well wonder what are the benefits of working with a writer?

I often have thought that myself. Why would I employ me?

But when you get into it and see the differences between words that serve as a function and words that are borne out of good writing, well they speak for themselves.

Take one little word. A noun. A naming word. This has the power to brand a planet or open doors into another person’s world.

Words that are strung together coherently and creatively – using the right word at the right time in the right place – makes words the supreme mode of communication.

Why else use a writer?

Sometimes it is difficult to see what needs to be said when you are in the thick of it. Working with a writer gives you an outside ear and eye and a more objective perspective.

Being able to see things clearly, get to the heart of a story and then communicate it so it connects properly with people are just some of the key benefits a writer can bring.

It also makes saying those things that you do well a heaven of a lot easier!

Perhaps you want to move up to the next level but aren’t quite sure how to express that or which path to choose.

Or perhaps you’re a bit shy about bigging yourself up or feel awkward bragging or maybe you find it difficult to identify and express the killer sales angles about yourself and your enterprise.

It can work the other way too. Perhaps in your enthusiasm to persuade people, reach new markets or even just casually network the words come out too direct or the key message or theme is muddled.

Either way it doesn’t quite hit the target.

And we don’t want that. Do we?

So, for me, when I ask myself, ‘Why work with a writer?’ the biggest benefit (and joy of the job) is helping you find your voice to say something special.

When you do that, you feel confident that you can connect clearly, creatively and commercially with the world.

And that’s something we all want more of, isn’t it now?

Drop me a line for further information or to have a little natter about your needs.

Literally yours,