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It’s no secret that the Kentucky Derby brings out all sorts of celebrities and have now for years, that’s right the famous and infamous swing by Churchill for the most exciting two minutes in sports regularly. With that in mind, and on the heels of a recent derby it seems like as good of a time as any to look at a number of the celebrities that have stopped by the track through the years.

The first recorded celebrity in the Derby’s history is Lord Derby in 1930. I’ll be honest, I don’t know who Lord Derby is- further I don’t know if he or she is a celebrity. Then again, this year we called Larry Birkhead a celebrity so, who knows really? I attempted to get to the bottom of the Lord Derby question and what I found was nothing. Still, Churchill Downs has recorded this mascot(?) as the first celebrity.

Here’s legendary crooner Bing Crosby at the annual event in 1953 with former Derby winner Jimmy Winkfield.


Broadway Joe Namath in 1968

“The Duke” himself, John Wayne at the Kentucky Derby parade in 1976.

Legendary country musician, Waylon Jennings in 1982

Acting legend Jack Nicholson even brought his crazy eyes to the track in 1998. Note that even the great Jack has a camera to capture the moments surrounding the event.

Actress Bo Derek put her bet on the number ten horse in the 1999 Derby. (I would like to apologize for that terrible joke.)

Future NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning stopped by the track in 2001, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

…And at starting guard from North Carolina…Michael Jordan (became a staple of the race since 2005).

Those are just a few, the simple fact is that the Kentucky Derby has become a beacon of sorts for celebrities from all walks of life and professions and more than that it has become just that for so many all around the world. Not bad for a race that began as nothing more than a humble showcase in the newly built Churchill Downs all those years ago.

Images courtesy of WordPressSports IllustratedKDFFlickr,Horse Racing OnlineZimbio, and Kentucky Corner  

By the way, the article cover image is legendary KISS bass player, Gene Simmons at the Derby in 2007

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About Dave Rose

Recently, I completed a Masters degree in Education and have been writing for Louisville.com for over a year now, prior to that I published a humor book for young adults titled Wearing Socks with Sandals, a book about getting through high school, college, and all of the requisite problems that present themselves during that time. Currently, I spend much of my time in classroom settings as well as writing in various areas. Of course, I’m a big sports fan and love music and film, and love finding new stuff around Louisville.

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