By Robert Johnson
This is the week when the horses run for the roses and the customers with winning tickets run to collect at Churchill D
owns. Buster Hammond and Mrs. Hammond have some of the happiest Kentucky Derby memories of all, but they won't be there.
"Frankly, I've always been afraid to go back," Buster said. The Kentucky Derby helped pay for their home 18 years ago with a big assist from their son Rommy, now 22 and
a CBC student, and Mrs. Hammond. It happened in spite of Buster.
Rommy found 14 good $50 tickets. Rommy was 4 then. "You can't get minors in on Derby Day," Buster said, "but we managed to get him in on the day before the Derby."
We were sitting next to a box which had Jack Chambers, Frank Liberto, Clyde Collins and some others. I had just bought a house on Ellsworth and was $1000 short of having enough money for the down payment, so I had floated a short term loan and I didn't know how I was going to pay that. I told my wife, "Let's go to the Derby and forget it."
When the seventh race came along, I went down to put down our little $2 bets for myself, my wife and her mother, Mrs. L. C. Halloran. Rommy was running around picking up tickets people had thrown away, and I told him, "There's a bunch over there, Son." He picked up a handful and gave them to me, and I went back to the box and told Jack Chambers, "Look, some stupe bet $700 on some dog."
My wife looked at them and said, "My gosh they're good." She remembered her mother had bet the same horse in the fourth. I cashed them in for $1540. Next day, my wife had a couple of winners. We missed on the Derby, but we came home with more than $1700.
I told Tom Swan, who was handling the real estate deal, I wanted to pay o
ff that $1000 debt, and we still had some left to do a little fixing up. We got Rommy a whistle. That satisfied him then. Now he is broke.
No, I've never been back; I've been scared. Then I got 50 years old and found out gambling doesn't pay.
Hammond, whose real name is Romulus M. Hammond Jr. but who is never known as anything but Buster, was in the movie business then, later went with Tom Kirk to found a chain of drive-in food stores, now operates Buster's Liquor Store, 1437 S. Bellevue.
Derby Day will probably find him and Mrs. Hammond at their favorite sport, fishing from their Horseshoe Lake place. They sold the Ellsworth house eight years ago, now live at 550 N. Goodlett.
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