The Longest Longshot

By Steve Kaufman | Photo of Carla Grego by Danny Alexander | Historical photos courtesy of Beth Buckley

In 2006, when 50-1 shot Mine That Bird burst out of obscurity to win the Kentucky Derby, it resurrected the name of another longshot from the distant past.

In 1913, Donerail – the longest of Derby long shots at 91-1 – broke from the pack to defeat front-running favorite Ten Point. For a few months, 93 years later, the story of Donerail’s improbable victory was on everybody’s consciousness.

Mine that Bird’s jockey, Calvin Borel, became as famous as his horse. That’s how today’s personality-driven media work today. But how many people know the name of Donerail’s rider from that May afternoon 104 years ago?

One who does is Carla Grego, the membership manager at the Kentucky Derby Museum. Grego grew up in a horse family on Southern Parkway in the shadow of Churchill Downs. Her parents had a riding academy. Her name then was Carla Warren. Her mother’s maiden name was Donna Goose. Her mother’s uncle was Roscoe Goose.

Roscoe Goose was aboard Donerail on Derby day 1913.

As a young girl, Carla didn’t know this great-uncle, or in fact too much about the family’s history. “I was 12,” she said. “I was more worried about what was going on with me.”

But then this small man, 74 years old by then, suddenly appeared in her life. “We had horses and were going to horse shows all the time,” Carla said. “It was in 1965. I was riding that day at the state fairgrounds horse show. Roscoe came to watch me ride.”

He became a regular Saturday morning visitor at the Warren household in the short time before his death in 1971.

“I can remember this little man driving up in this big Cadillac, every Saturday morning. All you could see was his fedora sticking up above the dashboard.”

The old jockey clearly wanted to become part of this family. “He was lonely,” said Carla. “His wife had just died. His only living brother was in Florida. I guess he wanted to reconnect.”

derbAfter coming to the show that afternoon, he called her mother and asked if he could take Carla somewhere to buy something for her pony. “He took me to Becker and Durski (the preeminent Louisville tack shop), and bought a halter for my pony, Black Jack, with the name across it.”

Even then, she admitted, “I really didn’t know much about him. He seemed like a nice enough little gentleman, but I hadn’t yet gathered the significance of him.”

She knew he had been a jockey, and even that he’d won the Derby, “but I was more into quarter horses, cowboy stuff,” Carla said. “At that age, to me, the Derby was just something that happened once a year around here.”

Until her mother took her to the house Roscoe had lived in since 1913, on Third and Central. And the reality began to sink in for her. “In the living room, there was a huge painting of him on Donerail,” she remembered. “And all around the house, there were nothing but win pictures. In fact, Eddie Arcaro (who was then one of America’s most famous jockeys) had sent Roscoe some of his win pictures.

“I felt it then – that Uncle Roscoe was somebody who’d been really prominent in the racing industry.”

Yes, prominent. So prominent was the Louisville-born-and-bred rider in 1913 that Donerail’s owner, Thomas P. Hayes, didn’t think the horse was worthy of Goose, and told the jockey to ride another horse that afternoon. But the other horse was taken.

Derby Museum curator Chris Goodlett related the story, in a 2014 short video on KET, that Hayes told Goose just before the post: “We’re going for cornbread here.” In other words, not much – just a piece.

Donerail, a high-strung three-year-old, was being stabled at Douglass Park, three or four miles from Churchill Downs. So, the morning of Derby, Goose and Hayes had to walk Donerail over to the track, along Third Street and other city avenues. Of course, it was 1913. Horses on the street were nothing unusual.

So feisty was Donerail, said Grego, that in the win picture Roscoe was sitting bareback on his mount. “He was jumpy when they tried to put the blanket of roses on his neck,” she said, “so Roscoe hopped down, took the tack off the horse, wrapped the roses in the blanket so Donerail couldn’t see them and hopped back on the horse for the photo.”

It turned out not to be a profitable victory for Roscoe. Before the race, the jockeys had agreed to celebrate that night at the Seelbach Hotel with their winnings. “The total purse was around $5,500,” said Goodlett, “and the jockey got about $550. By the end of the night, it was all gone. But he said many times, later on, that he’d do it again.”

Goose was one of the racing industry’s most successful jockeys. But, sadly, for only a short time. Two weeks after Goose rode his memorable Derby ride, his brother, Carl, won The Kentucky Oaks aboard Cream (yes, the Oaks occurred after the Derby back then). It has never happened again, two brother winning the two races in the same year. (Carl raced under the name Carl Ganz, the family’s original name in Germany – “ganz” is German for “goose.”)

Two years later, in 1915, Carl died in a horseracing accident at Latonia. And Roscoe never rode again.

He did, however, stay active in the sport. Following his brother’s death, he reportedly began advocating the use of helmets in races by all jockeys. He trained horses, advised owners, was a bloodstock agent – evaluating, buying and selling horses – and served as president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeders Association. He became a wealthy man.

He also mentored young riders. Carla was told that apprentice jockeys would come stay at his house and learn from the old Derby winner.

“When young riders would come to him, he would evaluate their hands and feet and he could tell how big they’d get,” Carla related. “Most of these kids were 14 or 15, hadn’t yet had their growth spurt.

“He told (Hall of Fame jockey Eddie) Arcaro, ‘You’re not going to make it, find something else to do.’ Eddie apparently never let Roscoe forget that.”

At one point, Roscoe managed the stable of James Graham Brown. Brown was evidently allergic to horses, so he’d drive up to the track in what Carla called “his big everybody-take-notice car” and watch the horses from there.

“My husband galloped one of his better horses, a filly named Woozem,” she said, “and after he galloped the horse, he’d have to parade her in front of the car so Mr. Brown could see her up close without having to get out of his car.”

Not surprisingly, for a child who grew up around Old Third Street and whose childhood playgrounds included the bridle path that ran along Southern Parkway from Churchill Downs to Iroquois Park, Carla’s entire life – her entire family – revolved around horses.

Her mother, Donna, was born in 1929, one of three children of Bill Goose, Roscoe’s brother and the only one of five Goose brothers to have children of his own. Bill Goose owned racehorses.

“Mother grew up on Southern Parkway,” Carla recalled. “At the time, there were more horses going up and down Southern Parkway than there were cars.”

When she got married to Robert Warren, they started a riding academy and leased out horses for the day. “Their academy was in an alleyway just behind Southern Parkway on Ashland Avenue,” said Carla. “My father had been a saddlebred trainer. There was never a time in my life when I didn’t have horses or wasn’t around horses.”

She said her mother was “a very good rider, who rode horses 24/7. It was part of who she was.” However, it was strictly recreational. “Back then, women being anywhere around the track was taboo generally – and very much so in the Goose household.”

According to Carla, her mother and her friends did indeed find a way to raise up the fence at Churchill Downs and get their horses onto the track. “But they were terrified that Uncle Roscoe would find out.”

When Carla grew up, one of her first jobs was at Wagner’s Pharmacy on South Fourth Street across from the track. “I also worked at the track, much to my mother’s dismay. There were plenty of women at Churchill by then, but Mom had been raised with such a strict rule. It was just something you didn’t do if you were a lady.”

Carla met Don Grego over the breakfast counter at Wagner’s. They were married in 1976. He exercised and broke horses, then moved into training. He was the farm trainer at Calumet Farm, where he broke the yearling Strike The Gold, who went on to win the 1991 Kentucky Derby, and Criminal Type, the U.S. Horse of the Year in 1990 for D. Wayne Lukas.

“One winter, he went south and left me at Calumet with a few horses, including one I loved named Peon,” she said. “I had my trainer’s license by then, so I asked Churchill Downs if I could get a stall of my own and race him there. Pat Day rode him. I won a couple of races with him.”

She said, “There was no day on the racetrack that felt like a job to me. And I think most racing people feel the same way.”

Which is why she gravitated to office work at Churchill Downs. “I started as an office clerk. Then Tom Meeker, who was president here, gave me some opportunities and I ended up as director of the Twin Spires Club.”

She came to the Kentucky Derby Museum in 2006. “I haven’t gotten off this corner in 45 years,” she laughed.

One of her projects is working on the oral histories they compile there, interviewing every owner, trainer and jockey who wins the Kentucky Derby.

As important as it is for future generations, Carla gets wistful about all the past testimonials they’ll never have. “We’ve lost so many,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear, in Ben Jones’ own words, how he came up with that full-cup blinker he put on Whirlaway the day of the (1941) Derby to keep him from drifting on the outside?”

And, of course, her very own ancestor. “It pains me,” she said. “I’d love to hear the Donerail story in Roscoe’s own voice.”

Another wistful regret is that she never rode with her famous uncle in the six years they had together. “By that time, I don’t think he was getting on horses anymore. In fact, I don’t think he rode after 1915.”

At all? “For people who make their living riding horses, it’s not a recreational thing, it’s their job,” Carla explained. “They don’t spend their free time on horses.

“My husband galloped horses for 40 years, and I couldn’t pour him on my horse. He just doesn’t have any interest.”

For Carla, however, it’s still a passion. “I still ride. I have a paint horse that I take to little shows around here, just to keep my hand in.”

She shrugged. “It’s a Goose thing!”

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