Posted: 10:41 pm Friday, May 5th, 2017
By Jamie Dupree
As fans get ready for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky, while the race itself may be a welcome departure from the daily drumbeat of politics in the U.S., there is certainly a political flavor in the stands, especially from the Bluegrass State.
For Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, being at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May is a mandatory destination, even though McConnell might not strike many on Capitol Hill as someone who would be fluent in the details of the Daily Racing Form.
Fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has also been a frequent attendee, attracting a lot of attention a few years ago when Rupert Murdoch was Paul’s guest in Louisville.
Paul’s advice is simple:
Rand Paul's advice for the Kentucky Derby: "Bet lots of money." pic.twitter.com/bf19JO0JPO
— Cheryl (@HoldingOn2Stars) April 30, 2016
But while Senators, Congressmen, mayors and Governors might make the trek to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, U.S. Presidents usually do not.
In fact, the only sitting President to attend the Kentucky Derby was Richard Nixon in 1969.
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) May 7, 2016
The next year in 1970, Rolling Stone writer Hunter S. Thompson brought his own style of Gonzo Journalism to Louisville, mixing talk of Black Panthers, Vietnam, Barry Goldwater, Colonel Sanders – and of course – Nixon, as well.
The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved – Thompson’s unparalleled dive into Derby weekend is simply mandatory reading – whether you like horses, politics, or neither.
“Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious,” Thompson wrote.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to Churchill Downs several times for both the Kentucky Derby and the Breeder’s Cup – it’s an enjoyable day, especially if you cash a few tickets along the way.
On one of my visits, I ran into then Sen. Wendell Ford, who served both as a Governor of Kentucky, and then for four terms in the U.S. Senate.
RIP Wendell Ford, I just realized that as Governor of Kentucky, he presented Secretariat with his Kentucky Derby trophy 🙂
— Julie Wright (@reddogcw) January 22, 2015
On race day, I was down in the lobby of my hotel getting the newspaper, and there was Ford, working the hallways and greeting people, all smiles as he recognized me from the halls of Congress.
He made it clear that he wanted to make sure I had a good time that day.
“I just got one piece of advice for you,” Ford said, leaning in to emphasize his words, like a Quarterback calling a big play late in the game.
“Get it on, son!” Ford said with a big smile. “Git it on!”
Who am I picking on Saturday? I’ll take the #5 horse, Always Dreaming.
About the Author
Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog. A native of Washington, D.C., Jamie has covered Congress and politics in the nation’s capital since the Reagan Administration, and has been reporting for Cox since 1989.