The remarkable finish to Saturday’s 135th running of the Kentucky Derby would have surely set my friend Dan Chandler into one of his trademark Bluegrass State cackles that made him sound just a little like Foghorn Leghorn.
Chandler, one of the great Las Vegas characters and the son of the late Baseball Commissioner “Happy” Chandler, is the subject of my 2006 book “Bluegrass Days, Neon Nights: High Rolling with Happy Chandler’s Wayward Son, Dan Chandler.” He died of a heart attack at his family’s Versailles, Ky., cabin not long before its publication and just two days before the Kentucky Derby.
Dan’s fried chicken Derby parties were attended by the notorious and celebrated alike. “My man!” he would shout when greeting a friend, whether that pal be a bookmaker from Miami or the governor of the state.
Purely for research purposes only, you understand, I shadowed Chandler at two Derby weeks while writing my book about him. He was a grand story teller who was seldom far from a good Cuban cigar and a generous glass of Johnny Walker red. His tenure as a grand casino host at Caesars Palace was not without controversy, but when I saw the way movie stars and Hall of Fame athletes greeted him I knew he’d grown comfortable with his lot in life and his fate.
Here’s to My Man Dan. And, of course, to the amazing 50-to-1 shot Mine That Bird.