Which Politicians Attended The Kentucky Derby This Weekend? There Weren't That Many
The first of the famed Triple Crown races kicks off on Saturday, and social and political elite certainly wouldn't miss the Run for the Roses for anything, if red carpet showings are any indication. In past years, even former presidents and presidents-elect have attended the (with swaths of security and bodyguards of course) and rubbed elbows with Hollywood bigshots and royalty from across the Atlantic (welcome to Churchill Downs, Queen Elizabeth!). So which politicians were in attendance at the Kentucky Derby this weekend? Despite the usual exciting draw, with the busy electoral season coming up, there weren't actually that many.
According to Derby officials, the first U.S. president to attend the Derby was Harry S. Truman, who was later followed by Lyndon Johnson in 1952 (Johnson "attended while a Texas senator", reported the official website). In the years following, the famed "Millionaires Row" has been something of a stomping ground for the rich and famous, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. The velvet-rope cordoned staging has also played host to congressional and state politicians like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) and his guest, News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, in 2014. Even President Obama has expressed a desire to head to the races and sip on one of the grounds' famous mint juleps.
"I think what he would say is that having the president attend the Derby would raise such a kerfuffle … because it would be a real inconvenience to everybody else who was trying to go," said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest in an interview with The Courier-Journal in April. "But I bet he'd love to go as a sports fan — it's the most exciting 2 minutes in sports, right?"
It's not surprising that so many politicos usually attend Derby weekend either. With several high-powered Capitol Hill honchos on the receiving end of thousands in donations from equine foundations, just showing up would be thanks enough to the officials who work all year to pull off the big race who also work in cooperation with politicians to pat one another on the back. As the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to transparency and accountability in government, reported in 2012:
Horse-focused PACs like the American Horse Council, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and horse breeders and owners have contributed more than $8.7 million to political candidates and parties since 1989 and spent $2.2 million more lobbying. And some of the top donors to these organizations are mega-donors in their own right, having contributed millions more to politicians, parties, PACs and super PACs.
There's a lot to gain by being owed favors, of course. But whatever their reason for attending this weekend, the busy red carpet attracted at least two major state political players this weekend.
James Comer, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner & 2015 Gubernatorial Candidate
The 2015 Gubernatorial candidate is an avid racing fan and has a lot of things to say about his home state's grand Derby tradition and those who disrespect it, telling The Paulick Report in 2012:
Horses and farmland define our Commonwealth. I cannot imagine our state without our signature industry, which we all enjoy at Derby time but often take for granted every other day of the year. I cannot understand those who would sit in fancy box seats at the Derby and then divorce themselves from the very people who make this signature event the greatest 2 minutes in sports.
Unfortunately, Comer's favorite to win, International Star, scratched early on in the day, but that didn't mean he wasn't cheering along with the masses for all of the colts and fillies looking to win their very first Derby on Saturday.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear
The current Kentucky governor made his way up to the winner's stand to shake hands with winner American Pharoah's trainer Bob Baffert, owner Ahmed Zayat, and jockey Victor Espinoza.
"[My family and I are just] excited that our last Derby in office was won by Kentucky-bred American Pharoah," smiled an enthusiastic Beshear. Earlier in the day on the red carpet, Beshear also told reporters that the race was a constant source of pride for him. "The eyes of the world are on us here," he said.
... No word of whether that means he'll be running for higher office anytime soon.
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