LOUISVILLE. Ky. — This year marks the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby, where the 20 best three-year-old horses in the world compete for the title. While there can only be one winner, one Louisville man set forth to honor those who cross the line last.
That man is none other than Mike Cecil, who can most likely be found at Kern’s Korner sitting next to his long-time friend, Bill Gdaniec.
“Well we met, he was dating my sister at the time, many many years ago, very nice, a great tennis player and Mike just got disgusted with the fact that she was beating him all the time and so they kind of split,” Gdaniec said.
But after all of that, they still managed to remain friends over the years. Then, they collaborated on one of Mike’s greatest ideas.
“Unemployed, close to broke, sitting in the bathtub with a cocktail and I thought I have to come up with something and I thought Derby is the greatest thing in the world and here I am with a glass in the bathtub, I think plastic,” Cecil said.
So rather than honoring the horse that finished first in the Kentucky Derby, the Unofficial Cup crowns the last place horse with a spot on the duo’s signature cup.
Cecil is the brain behind the project and Gdaniec uses his background in graphic design to create a new design every year.
“We’ve got to give credit to the horses that are in it, they’re the best three-year-olds in the world and even if you finish last, it’s no disgrace and some of the horses that have finished last have gone on to great careers,” Cecil said.
Unlike the traditional glass Kentucky Derby cup, Cecil went with plastic.
“Well, if you’ve seen either of us hold a cup or a knife or a fork, we have to have things that don’t break,” Cecil said.
So while May is Churchill Downs’ busy season, the duo doesn’t start until the race concludes.
“It starts in late November, early December, Mike will give me a call and say it’s time, so we’ll meet for lunch and we’ll go over the name of the horse,” Gdaniec said.
While some names are easier than others like '“Soup and Sandwich,” who is featured on the 2021 Unofficial Cup, the cup remains the talk of the town.
“That first call in the fall is always kind of nerve-wracking, you know, is Bill there? Or he’ll call back and say, is Mike there? We’re never sure,” Cecil said.
This is the 39th year the Unofficial Cup has appeared at local Derby parties. The cup can be found at Old Town Liquor, Liquor Barn and Taste of Kentucky.