Derby tournament

The derby needs to be handle by Scanlan’s. Hinckle agreed on the site, bought a ticket for Thompson, transferred him money.

At around 3:30 am on Wednesday, 29 April 1970, Thompson rang the telephone at Warren Hinckle’s San Francisco Home. When Hinckle took the receiver up, he heard Hunter S. Thompson’s unmistakable voice crying from Aspen: “Goddammit, the Derby has to be covered by Scanlan’s. This is significant.” It is crucial. 

Thompson and his Derby

The pitch was very persuasive even at the late hour and late (only 72 hours before the event itself). Send Thompson to his hometown of Louisville to cover the inebriated and debauched scene at Scanlan’s Churchill Downs, the (some would say provocative) monthly magazine that Hinckle co-edited for, and discover his distinct voice in counter-cultural journalism. 

Hinckle agreed on the site, bought a ticket for Thompson, transferred him money, and then went out to find a storyteller. Initially, he had wanted to send a photographer for the occasion, but he engaged the English illustrator, Ralph Steadman, after negotiating with Thompson. 

It would be an unforgettable weekend that is remembered. And it all started with cocktails at a pub, like many of Thompson’s experiences did. 

The Memoir

Thompson begins: Around midnight, I got off, and no one talked as I was crossing the dark road to the terminal. The air was warm and thick, like a steam bath. Indoors, people clasped hands and hugged each other… huge grins, and a yell here and there: “By God! You old prick! You old prick! Well, to see you, sweetheart! —- good … and that’s what I mean.” 

I met a Houstonian man in the air-conditioned lounge who stated his name was something else, “but call me Jimbo,” and he was come to do so. “I’m all ready, by God! All in all. Anything. Yeah, what’s the drink you’re?” And he’s not going to hear about it. I ordered a margarita with ice, ‘Naw, now… For Kentucky Derby time, what type of hell drink? What the —- with you, kid?” He grinned at the bartender and winked. “—-, this youngster must be educated. Get a nice whiskey for him…” 

I just shrugged. “A twice Old Fitz’s on ice, all right.” Thompson’s approval was acknowledged by Jimbo. 

“Look.” He tapped me to make sure I listened. “Look.” “I know that audience of Derby, I’m coming here each year, and I can tell you one thing I learned – there’s no town to make people feel like you’re a —-. Anyway, not in public. —-, in a minute, they are going to roll you, smack you into the skull and steal every —- you have.” 

I thanked him, and in my cigarette holder, I placed a Marlboro. He remarked, “Say, you seem to be in the horse business … am I right? I don’t understand?” 

The Cameraman, Thompson

“No,” I told you. “I am a cameraman.” 

“Oh yes?” With fresh curiosity, he looked at my tattered leather bag. “That’s what you have — cameras? For whom are you working?” 

“—-,” I replied. “Playboy.” 

He laughed. He laughed. “Blessed is he! What will you do with — nekkid horses? Haw! When they run the Kentucky Oaks, I assume you’re going to be fairly hard working. It’s a fillies race, jut.” He’s been madly laughing. “Fantastic, yeah! And all of them too are going to be nekkid!”