Matt Winn, 1912
|Born||June 30, 1861|
|Died||October 6, 1949|
|Resting place||St. Louis Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky|
Long Island, New York (cottage)
|Occupation||Horse racing executive|
|Known for||The Kentucky Derby|
|Board member of||President, Churchill Downs Incorporated|
Colonel Martin J. "Matt" Winn (June 30, 1861 - October 6, 1949) was a prominent personality in American thoroughbred horse racing history and president of Churchill Downs racetrack, home to the Kentucky Derby race that he made famous.
A Louisville, Kentucky, businessman, Matt Winn had been a racing enthusiast since the day his father brought him to see the first running of the Kentucky Derby in 1875. In 1902, when the Churchill Downs racing facility was in serious financial trouble and in danger of closing, Winn formed a syndicate of local investors to take over the operation. A skilled marketer, in his first year running the racetrack, his renovations to the clubhouse and promotions for the event saw the business make its first-ever annual profit. A few years later, Winn changed the wagering from bookmaker betting to a Parimutuel betting system and in 1911 increased business substantially when he reduced the wager ticket from $5 to $2.
Matt Winn used his understanding of marketing to weave an aura of romance around the Kentucky Derby. In 1915, he convinced the multimillionaire sportsman Harry Payne Whitney to ship his highly rated filly Regret from New Jersey to Louisville to compete in the Derby. Whitney agreed, and Winn's effort paid off with nationwide publicity surrounding the first filly to ever win the Derby. Winn called Regret's victory a turning point, and he worked to create an event of exotic grandeur that women soon flocked to, coming from both fashionable society and the ordinary working classes. Under Winn, the Kentucky Derby became the preeminent thoroughbred horse race in America and in recognition of his accomplishments, the Governor of Kentucky bestowed on him the honorary title of Kentucky Colonel. In 1937, Winn and the Derby made the cover of the May 10th issue of Time magazine.
In 1944, Colonel Winn collaborated with Frank G. Menke to publish "Down The Stretch: The Story of Col. Matt J. Winn." He died a few years later in 1949 in Louisville. The Matt Winn Stakes for three-year-olds held each May at Churchill Downs was named in his honor. He is buried in his family plot in St. Louis Cemetery, 1215 Barret Avenue, Louisville Kentucky.
- Horse Racing's Top 100 Moments, Chapter 19: Matt Winn Saves Churchill Downs and the Derby by the Staff of Blood Horse Publications (2006) Eclipse Press ISBN 978-1-58150-139-1
- March 7, 1934 TIME magazine article on Matt Winn
- Matt Winn biography at the official Churchill Downs Incorporated website
- October 7, 1949 St. Petersburg Times obituary for Matt Winn