Is the winner's circle wheelchair-accessible?

Tomorrow's the big day for Dan Hendricks and his horse Brother Derek, who by racetime will likely be the odds-on favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. Maybe after tomorrow Hendricks can get back to being a horse trainer first, not a free ride for reporters and editors who've pretty much had a field day these past weeks with the "overcoming adversity" and "triumph over tragedy" and "paralyzed trainer won't quit" cliches (see earlier blog entries here and here).

We should all be left with just one question: is the winner's circle wheelchair-accessible?

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't begun to skim the hundreds of "amazing!-trainer-in-a-wheelchair" stories about Hendricks, but I think it's a pretty good bet that few if any focused on the wheelchair-accessiblity of the Churchill Downs complex. They should have, of course; but reporters rarely bother to ask wheelchair users about the access problems they run into; they seem to be far more interested in focusing on the "inspiring overcomer" "true grit" angle.

A shame, too. The public could learn a lot more about what obstacles disabled people face that we as a society could be eradicating. Or which should have already, under law, been eradicated.


Actually, I'm laying odds (wow! horse-race handicapping metaphor! ) that Churchill Downs is fairly wheelchair accessible. I've noticed good access whenever I've been out there -- and I usually go to the races once or twice a year (I live in Louisville). I've been to Churchill Downs with wheelchair users and never encountered problems.

But what about the winner's circle, where the horse -- and trainer -- goes?

I'll bet all of that -- and the backside and the path to the starting gate -- the places the horses go -- is wheelchair accessible.

Because horses, I'll bet, don't like steps and stairwells. Animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin in her latest book talks about how changes in the ground pattern, changes in level, can spook animals. And I'll bet owners and trainers (and thus, racetrack owners) want to make sure that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- is in the way which might cause high-strung racehorses to falter or spook as they're walked to the starting gate. They want to ensure the racehorses' way is as smooth as possible, literally and figuratively.

That'd be a good policy to use for people, too.

May 05, 2006 | Email this story


Comments (newest comments at bottom)

Hmm. I'm not much of a follower of the ponies, as we say. But did I not see a year or so ago the owner of a Derby winner roll into the winner's circle in a power chair of some common type? Was the path accessible, or did said owner have bearers?

Posted by: Stothers on May 5, 2006 05:36 PM

Don't know; can't say. Could be, though. We'll see...

Posted by: Mary Johnson on May 5, 2006 05:39 PM

I find it very frustrating to read some of the stories of "inspiration." When the ordinary details are glossed over, the asumption is that they are in order.
Yet, the devil is always in the details when it comes to the institutional biases we fight. I'm glad you raised these points. Accessibiity should always be a part of these discussions.
It looks like it is up to us to stay on top of that.

Posted by: R Powell on May 7, 2006 07:15 AM

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