Gift Ideas For Derby Fans And Horse Lovers

The great Zenyatta stood guard over her first foal, born at Lane’s End Farm near Midway in Woodford County. The sire is Bernardini, winner of the 2006 Preakness. Zenyatta won the 2009 Breeders Cup.

Santa Claus is inside the eighth pole, but there’s time for holidays shoppers to pick up some Thoroughbred-related gift items. After all, photo finishes get the adrenaline pumping, even on Christmas day.

The best gift idea to cross my desk this year is a collection of the equine paintings of artist Peter Williams, who can be spotted at his easel in the Churchill Downs and Keeneland paddocks each spring and fall.

“Peter Williams Retrospective: Paintings and People Dear to Me” is a lovely collection of his works over a 50-year career. More than 160 of Williams’ paintings are included in the collection.

This wide-ranging collection of Williams’ works is not restricted to horse racing. It even includes some nudes (two-legged variety), and you’ll even find some camels in his collected works.  The native of New Zealand, who splits his year at a home in Louisville, works exclusively in oils, has a ready smile and is always eager to put down the brush for a moment at chat while transferring his vision to canvas.

Now, a transparency note: Peter Williams has been a friend for many years. I’ve always admired his ample talent and was thrilled a few years back when he created a quartet of works for the “Art of the Kentucky Derby” series of official Kentucky Derby artwork. Regardless of our personal relationship, I would recommend his collection and I hope that you’ll at least take a peek and see for yourself.

You can find “Peter Williams” retrospective at the Kentucky Derby Museum Store (, the Keeneland Gift Shop ( and at other booksellers and equine-themed gift shops. The hardcover collection is priced at $39.95.

A book that will interest fans of the Kentucky Derby, Thoroughbred or American history and pop culture is James C. Nicholson’s “The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America’s Premier Sporting Event.”

The author is a member of the Nicholson line that produced retired Keeneland President Nick Nicholson and Kentucky Horse Par Executive Director John Nicholson. His work, published by University Press of Kentucky, is a scholarly but very readable study of how the Derby grew from regional attraction to a sports and entertainment event that attracts a world-wide audience.

While the race is centerpiece of the day, anyone who has visited Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day will quickly testify that the event is much more a horse race. Nicholson traces the evolution of the event from the days track founder Meriwether Lewis Clark through the legendary marketing and promotional prowess of Col. Matt Winn in search of the factors that the race an American cultural icon and a sports event of worldwide importance.

Friends have taken opposite sides of the fence on Nicholson’s take on the Derby, some feeling the race has been somewhat denigrated by his approach while others applaud the conclusions that resulted from his work and approach. For $24.95, you can judge for yourself.

Derby Dreams

Another book that’s worth a look for lovers of horse racing is Susan Nusser’s “Kentucky Derby Dreams: The Making of Thoroughbred Champions.”  Nusser’s work takes a look at the never-ending search for the one horse that as a 3-year-old will win America’s greatest race through the eyes of  Taylor Made Farm, a breeding and sales operation located just outside Lexington.

Published by Macmillan, the price tag on “Kentucky Derby Dreams” is $25.98.


The folks who make the Breyer collectibles have churned out several Thoroughbred models in recent years and there are new ones on the market this year. The zealous fans of the once-beaten 2011 “Horse of the Year” Zenyatta, who became the only female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2010 at Santa Anita and narrowly missed winning the race for a second year in her career finale the following year at Churchill Downs, has been a popular Breyer model for a couple of years.

But, for the truest Zenyatta fan, Breyer also offers a collectible figure of her first foal. The colt by Bernardini hit the ground in March and the long-legged youngster is the subject of his own Breyer figurine. Deep stretch shoppers should check with the Kentucky Derby Museum Gift shop or the Keeneland gift shop, or try your luck online at

For Old Friends

There’s a new Secretariat Breyer collectible available on the website, but I’m more intrigued by a figure that honors a lesser-known Thoroughbred. Bull in the Heather is a son of 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand, who won the 1993 Florida Derby and briefly (as in preliminary Derby betting on Kentucky Oaks Day) was the favorite for that year’s “Run for the Roses.” A Breyer figure of Bull in the Heather now lives at Old Friends, Michael Blowen’s retirement farm for racing heroes of all talent levels near Georgetown, Ky.

The sale of the grey Bull in the Heather benefits the work of Old Friends and, at last glance, was available at a sale price of $13.95. If you’d like to support Old Friends more directly, gift boxes, calendars and other items are available on the farm’s Web site at

Advance Tickets

And if you’d like to give the gift of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, you can do so. Again, for transparency’s sake: I work for Churchill Downs.

But my employer is offering advance sale of general admission tickets to the 2013 Kentucky Derby and Oaks through its online box office at The advance online purchase of Derby Day general admission is $40 and $25 for Oaks Day. Walk-up prices on the day of those events will be $50 for the Derby and $30 on Oaks Day.

Two-day packages of reserved seating in the new Section 110 venue are also available online. That area is located on the first, or “Clubhouse,” turn in an area that in recent years has been occupied by a two-story tented facility. That area now features the track’s first “tip-up” stadium seats and unlimited food and drink. Tickets for uncovered seats for Derby and Oaks Days in 2013 are priced from $698.

Hope you have a wonderful drive to the wire for your holiday shopping, and a wonderful and blessed holiday season.