For Dick Downey ’73, legal aid and horse racing are a winning combination.
By John Syme
As a boy in Franklin, Ky., Dick Downey ’73 knew more about horse racing than about Davidson. Then a cousin’s acceptance piqued his interest. Soon he arrived sight unseen for freshman year. He loved it.
“Scholarship at Davidson was fraternal. People were always willing to share with each other, to help each other,” he says.
He detoured to the University of Tennessee for a year (a girl)—but then high-tailed it back. “My friends and I picked up where we had left off, and that’s the way it is when we meet now. It’s like we just left the second floor of Cannon.”
Downey, an attorney in Bowling Green, Ky., and a dozen or so college chums gather annually at the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. They convene in nearby Leesburg, Va., at the home of classmate Bill Henry.
For Downey, the track is a business expense. He is owner of The Downey Profile, a gold standard of horse racing statistics and reportage.
“It is a small thing, but it is known,” he says modestly.
The Web site is plain, but rich: Copy flush left, just a few fonts, and pages and pages of insight on the Kentucky Derby, the Triple Crown, the Breeders’ Cup; on Miss Match, Creative Cause, and Ron the Greek; on historical data, current weather, and real-time results. It is a seasonal labor of love, mostly free for the sharing but also with a subscription-only tier, no copyright infringements, please.
“That’s never happened, but if it does, I know a good lawyer,” Downey deadpans.
He’s even more passionate about legal work than he is about racing—at least in the off season. In 28 years of private practice, he handled a broad range of civil and criminal cases, including life-and-death cases like DUI and medical malpractice. “I was always sitting across the desk from a real person, and the outcome was very important to that person,” he says.
Today Downey’s professional life centers on work with Kentucky Legal Aid, where he was on the board for 21 years.
“Some of the worst cases I see involve abusive men, and it’s always satisfying to win those cases,” he says. “I’m not on any kind of crusade, I just like winning and helping other people out.”
A conservative by nature, steeped in Professor of Political Science Win Minter’s lesson that “the Constitution of the United States was designed to protect property rights,” Downey recalls being wary of political angles inherent in the federal Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Now he champions its legal usefulness, while maintaining healthy skepticism for federal mandates in general and a preference for private partnerships in particular.
For instance, Kentucky Legal Aid works closely with the non-profit Legal Services Corporation, the single largest funder of aid for low-income Americans.
“The entire national budget for Legal Services Corporation is around $400 million,” he says. “The federal government can waste more than that in five minutes on something that doesn’t accomplish a lot. And this accomplishes a lot.”
Downey himself accomplishes a lot— enough that, come Derby season, he’ll doubtless find a way to clear his docket again this year.
“I can’t ever let the horse racing get in the way of my profession,” he says, “but scheduling is important.”