An unfunny thing happened to Billy Reed on his way to SI: he got sucker-punched by Dr. Alexander Harthill, the veterinarian who treated Dancer's Image before the Derby. At the time, Reed was a staff writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal investigating the drugging and disqualification of the Dancer. One morning late in May, Reed was at Barn 24 at Churchill Downs, taking pictures of the stall the horse had occupied, when Dr. Harthill, whom Reed had never met, approached him. Reed smiled, extended his hand and said, "Billy Reed from the Courier-Journal. You must be Dr. Harthill." Dr. Harthill shook Reed's hand and, at the same time, hit him with a left hook, which knocked him flat on his back and sent his glasses flying. Dr. Harthill then called Reed several names, "liar" and "chicken" being among the milder ones, and told him: "Get your glasses and get the hell out of here." (A small point: Reed was not trespassing, and Dr. Harthill had no authority to evict him.)
"I thought if I was ever going to get slugged it would have been by Adolph Rupp," says Reed. "I don't think you can do a good job of covering Coach Rupp unless he gets mad at you now and then."
Billy Reed is hardly the type to look for a fight, although he has always made it his business to look hard for the truth; he is 25, an unimposing physical specimen and gentle as in Southern gentleman. Indeed, he was born in Mount Sterling, Ky. and went to Transylvania College in Lexington. Since Count Dracula hailed from Transylvania in Rumania, the college's teams have been referred to as the Vampires (they are, in fact, the Pioneers), and the students are often subject to other feeble jokes in that vein.
All Billy Reed ever wanted to be was a ballplayer or a sportswriter, which is one version of the American dream. "But by the time I was 14 it became fairly apparent that I wouldn't make the big leagues," he says. "In two years of Pony League baseball I managed a grand total of three hits."
July 28, 1968
When Reed was 15 he went to work for the Lexington Herald-Leader, and he moved on to the Courier-Journal two years ago. Reed regards Louisville as a nearly ideal place in which to get a background in sports. "In boxing we have Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Ellis," he says. "In golf, Frank Beard and Bobby Nichols. We have SEC football and, in basketball, two of the Top Ten teams, Kentucky and Louisville. The Cincinnati Reds and Royals are 110 miles up the road, and, of course, there is the Kentucky Derby." The last, as Reed learned, can engender episodes which are more appropriate to the American nightmare.
This week Reed, whom we welcomed to our staff June 28th, did his first piece for us, an account of the Brooklyn Handicap (page 46). After visiting Aqueduct, he reports that the track is a good deal safer than Churchill Downs. Alas, he cannot say the same for the streets of New York. He and his wife hadn't been here six days when their car was stolen.