TUCSON, Ariz. – No matter which horse wins on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs in the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby, Gladys McAnally will be right there in the winner’s circle.
It’s just as it should be in Richard McAnally’s mind. In the plush grass among the winners on the world famous track is where Gladys belongs. It was one of her favorite places; one of their places.
Last September, McAnally was allowed to spread some of Gladys’ ashes in the famed circle. It came 15 months after she passed away after a number of strokes. Wednesday, May 8, would have been her 80th birthday.
Richard will be there in spirit. He might even shed a tear or two when the winner is shown as the connections gather around the area.
“I know she’s happy,” said McAnally, an 80-year-old Tucsonan and avid horse racing fan. “I never dreamed that they (Churchill Downs officials) would allow me to do that. I thought I’d have to sneak around and throw the ashes here and there, but they allowed me.”
It was his way of honoring his beloved wife of 54 years by going to the place they first met back in 1956. And yes, that day was Derby Day.
McAnally still has the program from the 1956 Derby, which was won by Needles.
McAnally played baseball at the University of Arizona under Frank Sancet and became an attorney in 1960. He’s now a part-time judge in Florence.
“We’d never miss the Derby,” he said. “It was a special day. We’d often go to Sonoita to watch the race and place our bets there. Derby Day was always important to us.”
Saturday’s race will be his second without her. How did he feel when he was placing her ashes at Churchill Downs.
“Oh, the heart was racing, there were smiles and the tears were flowing,” he said. “It was very memorable. Very exciting.
“She would have been just as happy as I was. I try not to cry through these emotional things, but it was special.”