When word circulated online Two weeks ago that former President Donald J. Trump would be attending a $ 75,000-per-person fundraiser hosted by his super PAC at the Kentucky Derby – in Senator Mitch McConnell’s home state – that was news to executives at Churchill Downs.
Even so, for a sporting event that regularly hosts more than 150,000 people, including many notable politicians and celebrities, a last-minute entry was nothing to panic about.
“It’s not unusual for a high-profile guest to have an event on our property during Derby Day,” said Tonya Abeln, a spokeswoman for Churchill Downs. “But Churchill Downs is not an organizer of that event. We coordinate as operationally necessary to ensure safe, smooth operations and that it does not interfere with other guests’ activity. “
The appearance on Saturday comes at a particularly testy moment between the relationship between Trump and McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, a four-year marriage of political convenience that imploded when McConnell opposed Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Trump, whose power is derived from his ability to project the image of the party kingmaker, seems to relish the upstage McConnell on his own turf. On Friday night, in a rally in Ohio, Trump heaped his go-to barnyard insult on McConnell, calling him “the old broken-down crow.“
The two men will not cross paths, even accidentally, this weekend. McConnell, who often attends the race, will be attending a memorial in Utah for Senator Orrin Hatch, a longtime friend, his aides said.
McConnell seldom engages with critics, and often deflects attacks by slyly embracing the slightest. Earlier in the week, he hosted his annual Derby-themed luncheon for Republican senators in Washington, and he gave away bottles of Old Crow bourbon, a nod to the Trump-given nickname.
Trump’s Derby guest list is not public, but the hosts are said to include Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general; Richard Grenell, former acting director of national intelligence; Matthew G. Whitaker, former acting attorney general; and Kimberly Guilfoyle, a television personality who is engaged to Donald Trump Jr.
This being an election year, many politicians are expected to be stumping at the high-profile horse race. Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, held a news conference at the media center Saturday afternoon. Asked about the fund-raiser, he said the Derby was “open to everyone.”
The fund-raiser will be held in what was described by Abeln as a semiprivate space, most likely in the Derby’s playground for the rich called Millionaire’s Row that sits high on the track and includes a maze of exclusive spaces, none more than 8,000 -square-foot area simply called the Mansion.
The Secret Service has been coordinating with the track’s security team. No outside food will be allowed at the event, Abeln said, adding that “anyone who is attending this event will be getting the same experience as everyone else at the racetrack.”
Trump has attended the Kentucky Derby in the past, and last year, when Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance, he inserted himself into a national conversation, calling the horse a “junkie” in a statement.