US Presidents are fans of the Kentucky Derby

US Presidents are fans of the Kentucky Derby
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The Kentucky Derby is rich in tradition and can be considered one of our nation’s greatest sporting events. So great, in fact, several of our nation’s Presidents have attended the Derby, one while in office. The Derby ties run even deeper when we examine details of those Presidential race fans visits. Here are some facts about our Commanders in Chief you might not know:

Harry Truman

  • Kentucky Governor Earle Clements invited the President to attend the 75th running of the Derby in 1949. In a letter declining the invitation, Truman stated that he would like to attend "another Kentucky Derby" someday, because it was a spectacle he had enjoyed in the past. (Truman Library, President's Personal File (PPF) 3550)

  • In a letter to a Kentucky friend, Truman pays tribute to the Derby as one of several great Kentucky traditions, although he does not mention attending the event. (Truman Library, President's Personal File (PPF) 2575)

  • A pair of "Kentucky Derby cups" were presented to the President and the First Lady around March of 1952. (Truman Library, President's Personal File (PPF) 9-G)

Lyndon Johnson
  • Senator Lyndon Johnson described his visit to the 1952 Kentucky Derby as “my day off”. (Louisville Courier-Journal, 5/4/1952)

  • Johnson in 1952: As Senator attending the Derby, he was said to be “uncommunicative” saying “I’m not talking. This is my day off.” (1993 Kentucky Derby Souvenir Magazine)

Richard Nixon
  • Nixon in 1968: attended the champagne toast for the winners with Kentucky Governor Louis B. Nunn and Churchill Downs President Wathen Knebelkamp. (1993 Kentucky Derby Souvenir Magazine)

  • Nixon in 1969: Several accounts say that he was touting the eventual winner Majestic Prince, which hailed from Nixon’s native California. As Majestic Prince crossed the finish line, Nixon apparently yelled, “He won, he won!” (1993 Kentucky Derby Souvenir Magazine)

  • When Nixon attended in 1969, it was not immediately known whether or not he placed a bet on a horse. He said he would “take the California horse” (Courier-Journal, 5/4/1969)

  • Nixon in 1969: He said, “I’m going to savor this race, Kentucky style” when asked whether or not he would try a mint julep. His usual drink was Scotch and soda. (Courier-Journal, 5/4/1969)

  • Nixon in 1969: He watched the sixth race on Derby Day with California Governor Ronald Reagan. (Courier-Journal, 5/4/1969)

  • Nixon in 1969: There are conflicting reports as to whether or not Nixon actually bet. In 1978, John V. Brennan, assistant to Nixon, claimed someone else placed a bet on Majestic Prince and gave the ticket to Nixon. (1993 Kentucky Derby Souvenir Magazine)

  • Nixon in 1969: “Security was tight from the spires on down to the tulip beds and over in the barn area. Secret Service men, whose serious mien was indistinguishable from that of the normal race track player, inconspicuously infiltrated Churchill Downs long before Richard Nixon became the first President of the United States to witness the Kentucky Derby. Louisville police, Kentucky state police, National Guard troops, Churchill Downs security guards, and Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau agents co-ordinated security efforts with walkie-talkies to insure protection, not only of the President, but of the Republican governors whose spring conference in Lexington was concluded the day before the Kentucky Derby.” (Jim Bolus, Derby Fever)

Gerald Ford
  • Gerald Ford has attended more Derbys than any former president with his wife, Betty. He stated that Genuine Risk was his favorite Derby winner. In 1989, said “We’ve always been thrilled with the excitement of the Kentucky Derby. It is one of the great American sporting events.” (1993 Kentucky Derby Souvenir Magazine)

Jimmy Carter
  • Carter in 1983: spent a lot of time with Kentucky breeder Tom Gentry. On Derby Day, Gentry lost Laffit Pincay, Jr. as the rider for Flag Admiral in the fourth race. Carter accompanied Gentry to the jockeys’ room to find a replacement rider. Apparently, Carter impressed many in the jocks’ room with his command of Spanish. (1993 Souvenir Magazine)

  • Carter in 1983: Dale Sights, Kentucky State Racing Commission member and Carter’s host for the Derby, stated that the former president accompanied Gentry to the paddock to help saddle Flag Admiral for the fourth race. Carter supposedly gave jockey Jorge Velasquez instructions on how to ride the race “and the race worked out exactly the way he told him to ride it.” (1993 Souvenir Magazine)

  • Carter in 1983: apparently had placed a bet on Flag Admiral on Derby Day. The colt ran in the Preakness two weeks later with Carter as part owner. Apparently, Carter stipulated that any financial gain from the investment go the Carter Library in Atlanta. (1993 Souvenir Magazine)

George H.W. Bush
  • George H.W. Bush attended the Derby in 1993, 1995 and 2000. In 1995, he bet on two horses for the Derby but kept his picks to himself. (Lexington Herald-Leader, 5/7/1995)

  • George H.W. Bush in 1993: wore a red, white and blue tie with stars, stripes and a Texas longhorn. His pick for the race was Personal Hope because the owners, Lee and Debi Lewis, were from Lubbock, Texas. (Personal Hope finished 4th.) Bush presented the trophy for the Churchill Downs Handicap. (Blood-Horse, 5/8/1993)

  • George H.W. Bush in 1993: Apparently had been betting and losing all day but said he would “…make it all back in the Derby.” He didn’t, as he bet on Union City, which finished 15th. (Jim Bolus, Derby Fever)

  • George H.W. Bush in 2000: Won big by betting on his friend Will Farish’s horse, Secret Status, in the Oaks; declined to say whether or not he placed a Derby bet saying “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. (The Courier-Journal, 5/7/2000)

Bill Clinton
  • Clinton in 1994: Clinton never attended but was the first president to call and congratulate the winner of the Derby (Go for Gin, 1994). (Jim Bolus, Derby Fever)

George W. Bush
  • George W. Bush in 2000: Attended as Texas governor; appeared in the paddock and made a presentation in the winner’s circle; dined in the Skye Terrace with his father, former president George H.W. Bush; said to press “I don’t think I’ll be wagering too much. This is a great day. It’s a spectacle.” (The Blood Horse, 5/13/2000)

  • George W. Bush in 2000: “I’m really glad I came. The energy of the crowd is magnificent, the horses are beautiful. It’s a fantastic experience.” (Thoroughbred Times, 5/13/2000)

  • George W. Bush in 2000: “I’m not a good bettor-I’m not against betting-I’m just against losing money, especially my own. You should have seen me 20 years ago. I would have been betting and drinking out here all day.” (Thoroughbred Times, 5/13/2000)

  • George W. Bush in 2000: Said he did not bet, but if had it would have been on The Deputy, which was “an interesting story”. (The Courier-Journal, 5/7/2000)

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  • US Presidents are fans of the Kentucky Derby