LOUISVILLE — Bill Luster has been photographing the Kentucky Derby for more than 50 years.
Luster, who is originally from Glasgow, but now lives in Louisville, will be shooting the Derby on Saturday for the Courier-Journal as a freelance photographer.
“This will be 52,” he said, referring to the number of years he has shot the Derby, as he took a brief moment Friday morning to do a telephone interview with the Glasgow Daily Times before leaving to photograph the Oakes.
The Kentucky Derby is one of Luster's all-time favorite assignments.
“It's wonderful. I love it. I love the Derby. Everything is nice about it,” he said. “One thing I really enjoy is when they sing 'My Old Kentucky Home.'”
The song is sung as the horses make their way from the paddock to the starting gate.
He also likes that it is an event representative of Kentucky and is full of high-action.
“It's just fun,” he said.
His wife, Linda, said he gets pretty excited about the assignment each year.
“He loves every minute of it,” she said.
She typically doesn't go with him to the Derby.
“He usually takes an assistant,” she said. “My job is to have the right clothes. Like today, I made sure he dressed warm.”
She also made sure he had plenty of snacks, because Luster is a diabetic and she didn't want his blood sugar level to drop too low.
Luster suffered a stroke in November 2015. His wife said that since the stroke he's not as fast as he once was and he gets tired more quickly.
“But he is a determined individual and he just keeps plugging along,” she said.
The Derby is the one time of year Luster gets to see his fellow photographer friends who work out of town.
“He enjoys that,” she said.
Luster's sister, Ann Stewart of Glasgow, said her brother is very focused when it comes to photographing the Derby.
“It's one of his pride and joys,” she said.
When he had his stroke, Stewart and other family members weren't sure he would be able to photograph the Derby in 2016.
“He kept talking about how he was going to the Derby,” Stewart said. “At that time we didn't think he would be able to go to the Derby.”
But he did.
When asked to talk about his favorite Derby photo, he said, “That's hard to say. Probably the 1997 Derby when Silver Charm won. It just has everything in it — the winner, good action and it was a beautiful day and all of that sort of thing.”
Luster places a bet each year at the Derby. His biggest win at the race was in 1986 with Ferdinand. On Friday, he planned to place a bet on Classic Empire.
“He just has the look of a Derby winner,” he said.
Luster worked for the Glasgow Daily Times from 1965 to 1969, before moving on to the Courier Journal where he worked for 42 years. During his tenure at the Courier Journal, he won two Pulitzer Prizes for his photography; one in 1976 when the Courier Journal's staff covered a bussing issue and another one in 1989 when the newspaper's staff covered the Carrolton bus crash.
Luster has photographed the Derby in all types of weather conditions.
“The worst weather condition I can remember was in '87. It rained like it's raining today, and we had some lightning,” he said.
He recalls the race being postponed for a few minutes due to the weather.
He was hoping the weather would clear on Friday and that it would be even better today for the Derby.