LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – His first Derby was in 1941, and he has been to more than 50 or 60 others in that time, though he doesn't have an exact count.

But the first Derby memory that tumbles out of 94-year-old World War II veteran Ralph Waldrop Sr.'s mouth is about the guy who climbed to the top of a pole in the infield "naked as a jay bird” decades ago.

“A police officer tried to climb the pole and get him but couldn’t,” Waldrop recalls with a laugh.

He’s seen Derby races decade after decade, watching from muddy infields to the rarefied air of Millionaire’s row, now sitting in box seats under the Twin Spires, where he and his family have watched the race since 1975.

Capt. Waldrop flew a B-26 bomber – named “Idiot’s Delight -  in World War II, flying 64 bomber mission and 55 support missions for the wounded.

But today, he wants to talk Derby – and not necessarily about the horses he has seen throughout the years.

No doubt he’s seen some good ones - “Secretariat, what a beautiful horse” – but most of the memories he shares this Saturday are about the happenings outside the races.

For example, there was the time he and his friends built a platform in the infield in the 1950s that provided a perfect elevated view of the races and everything else you might want to see in the infield.

But some drunkard kicked the platform over, sending Waldrop and his friends flying. Waldrop said he injured his leg and was taken to the hospital – after a a fight with the man who ruined a perfectly good platform for no good reason. 

When he was told at the hospital his leg was not broken, Waldrop said he hitched a ride back to the track.

“I wasn’t going to miss the Derby,” he said.

And it's been that way, for the most part, since that 1941 race, when he was a senior in high school and went with a friend who had “stolen” two tickets.

“That’s what got me started,” he said. “It was just amazing.”

With that, he asked a reporter if he would be staying with him until the Derby race.

"You better leave before they play, “My Old Kentucky Home,” Waldrop said.


 “I’ll tell you what …” Waldrop said trailing off and pointing to his eyes. “Tears.”

Ok, one last question: You have any plans to maybe watch one of these from home in the next few years?

“If I’m here in the world at (age) 100, I’ll be here,” Waldrop said. 

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