Ken Grayson has been a thoroughbred racing fan for more than 50 years. Kentucky Life got a look at his extensive collection of horse racing memorabilia, which chronicles the sport’s history in America.
Ken Grayson credits his passion for horse racing to a friendship he formed during a stint in the military as a young man. He served in the U.S. Army with Willie Tichenor, a jockey from Beaver Dam in Western Kentucky. After being discharged, Tichenor went south to Evangeline Downs in Louisiana to begin exercising horses again, and Grayson followed him there for a while.
“That was my introduction to horse racing, just being around the atmosphere of it,” Grayson says from his Lexington home. “So, after I got out of the Army, 50 years ago, I started going to the Kentucky Derby, and went to my first Derby in 1966. [Since then] there’s been a total of 51 Derbies, and if I make it next month, that will be 50 of them that I’ve been to.”
Grayson’s home is teeming with artifacts from the sport of kings. Framed paintings, photographs, and rare magazine covers line the walls. Shelves are filled with industry journals, racing programs, Kentucky Derby glasses, and other mementos.
One of the rarest items is the original minutes book for the Louisville Jockey Club, written in October 1874. The tome contains instructions that would lay the groundwork for the inaugural Kentucky Derby in 1875 and propel the organization during the first 20 years of its existence. Another valued item is a saddle used by the legendary Man o’ War, winner of the 1920 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and considered to be one of the greatest Thoroughbreds of all time.
Grayson also displays a cornucopia of Kentucky Derby souvenirs, ranging from a periscope used by grandstand patrons to view the 1937 edition to the goggles worn by jockey Angel Cordero Jr. aboard Cannonade in the 100th Run for the Roses in 1974. And he opens up a box to reveal the 1977 Triple Crown trophy for Seattle Slew, still the only horse to win the series with an undefeated record.
Grayson also owns the oldest owners’ silks in the United States. The framed silks – a light blue jacket and brown cap – were acquired by the iconic Whitney family from an earl in England, he says, and registered in the U.S. with The Jockey Club.
“When I first started collecting, it was mainly about collecting the items, and after that, it became about people and about the history of horse racing,” Grayson says. “I’m on several committees, like the Historical Review committee that decides on people for the Hall of Fame that got skipped over for one reason or another in current times.”
Grayson regularly loans pieces from his collection to institutions such as the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the nearby Kentucky Horse Park, as well as to Churchill Downs and even to the Sierra Club in California and the Gerald Ford Presidential Library in Michigan. “I feel that I have an obligation to share them with other people,” Grayson says.
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2115, which originally aired on April 30, 2016. View the full episode here.