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Roscoe Goose and Donerail: The Longest Odds

Everyone loves an underdog story, and one of the greatest in Kentucky Derby history happened in 1913, when Roscoe Goose rode Donerail to victory.

“We don’t seem to have a history of a lot of born-and-bred Louisvillians that made their careers at Churchill Downs,” says Chris Goodlett, Curator of Collections at the Kentucky Derby Museum. “I think [Roscoe Goose] was one of the earliest. He was born here in 1891. He got involved in horses at a pretty young age. He did that by driving delivery wagons when he was a teenager.”

In 1913, the Kentucky Derby’s stock was rising. Churchill Downs had recently undergone renovations. The purse had been increased. The attendance that year was an estimated 30,000 spectators.

Donerail’s owner, Thomas P. Hayes, was hesitant about entering his colt in the Derby. It was Goose who convinced him to go through with it, although Hayes still didn’t view winning as a possibility.

“There was a quote where Hayes reminded [Goose], ‘We’re going for cornbread here,’” says Goodlett. “He just wanted a piece of the race. He didn’t really think he could win.”

But win he did, and at 91-to-1 odds, he remains the longest shot to ever win the Kentucky Derby. Risk-taking bettors were rewarded with $184.90 for a $2 wager.

For Goose, the monetary rewards of the race amounted to the same in victory as they would have in defeat.

“[The jockeys] made an agreement that whichever jockey won would take their part of the purse to the Seelbach Hotel and they were going to spend all the money,” says Roscoe Goose’s great-niece, Carla Grego. Regardless of who won, the jockeys were going to have a party. “They weren’t coming home until it was gone.”

“Roscoe was true to his word,” says Goodlett. “The total purse was $5500. The jockey got 10 percent of that. He did have a party downtown that night for the jockeys and many times throughout his life when he was asked about that, he said he’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Goose’s brother, Carl, was killed in a riding accident at Latonia (now Turfway Park) in 1915. That was a big factor in Goose’s decision to retire shortly thereafter.

“Roscoe did stay in the industry,” says Goodlett. “He retired from riding in 1918, but he did some training of racehorses. He trained other jockeys. He was very critical in the careers of Charley Kurtsinger, who won the triple crown aboard War Admiral in 1937, and Eddie Arcaro, who is probably seen as one of the greatest riders ever in this country.”

Roscoe Goose’s legacy lives on in the 91-to-1 record that is unlikely to ever be broken.

“Without him pushing Mr. Hayes, I don’t think Donerail would have run in the Derby,” says Grego. “It’s nice when your convictions work, and then you have 100 years of people knowing you were right!”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #1918, which originally aired on May 4, 2014. Watch the full episode.