Stars Under the Spires
Throughout the years of the Kentucky Derby, the race has had a special appeal to the celebrity set. The rich and famous that mingle among the Derby Day crowd add a unique dimension to the spectacle of the "Run for the Roses."
One of the first celebrity sightings dates to 1877 when famed Polish actress Helena Modjeska attended the third running of the Kentucky Derby. In the 1945 book, Down the Stretch, it was noted that Modjeska was impressed by the Kentucky Derby but even more charmed by the mint julep to which she was introduced by Churchill Downs founder M. Lewis Clark following the race.
Over the years, a stream of celebrities from film, television, music, sports, politics, publishing, fashion and corporate American have been drawn to the Kentucky Derby. On at least one occasion, a celebrity with a more notorious background was the talk of the Derby. The 15th renewal in 1889 brought bank and train robber Frank James to Louisville. The brother of famed outlaw Jesse James and a leader in their outlaw gang, Frank was on hand to watch Spokane take the victory over favored Proctor Knott.
In 2007, Churchill Downs initiated a new Kentucky Derby tradition with a celebrity focus by creating a special Red Carpet entrance for VIP attendees and their guests. Kentucky Derby broadcast partner NBC provided televised coverage of the Derby Red Carpet arrivals, giving fans around the globe a chance to see the rich and famous make their way into the world’s most legendary racetrack for a once-in-a-lifetime entertainment experience.
Although most of the rich and famous who attend are guests of prominent ticket holders, the Derby has also attracted an impressive roster of celebrity horse owners. Since 1990, this group of celebrity owners has grown to include musician Hammer (1992 - Dance Floor, 3rd); composer Burt Bacharach (1994 - Soul of the Matter, 5th & 1995 - Afternoon Deelites, 8th); music producer Barry Gordy (1994 - Powis Castle, 8th); film producer Albert Broccoli (1994 - Brocco, 4th); New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner (1997 - Concerto, 9th and 2005 - Belamy Road, 7th); University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino (1998 - Hallory Hunter, 4th); and movie director Steven Speilberg (2003 - Atswhatimtalknbout, 4th).