When word spread online two weeks ago, former President Donald J. Trump would attend a $75,000-per-person fundraiser hosted by his super PAC at the Kentucky Derby — in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s home state — it was news for the leaders of Churchill Downs.
Even so, for a sporting event that regularly hosts over 150,000 people, including many notable politicians and celebrities, a last-minute entry was no reason to panic.
“It is not unusual for a high profile guest to hold an event on our property during Derby Day,” said Tonya Abeln, spokeswoman for Churchill Downs. “But Churchill Downs is not an organizer of this event. We are coordinating what is operationally necessary to ensure safe and smooth operations and that it does not interfere with the business of other customers.
Saturday’s appearance comes at a particularly difficult time in 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 void the election. of 2020.
Trump, whose power stems from his ability to project the party’s kingmaker image, seemed to relish the opportunity to eclipse McConnell on his home turf. At a rally in Ohio on Friday night, Trump heaped his backyard insult on McConnell, calling him “the broken down old crow.”
The two men will not cross paths, even accidentally, this weekend. McConnell, who often attends the race, will be in Utah to attend a memorial for longtime friend Sen. Orrin Hatch, his aides said.
McConnell rarely engages with critics and often deflects attacks by slyly embracing the lighthearted. 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 Trump’s nickname.
Trump’s Derby guest list is not public, but hosts reportedly include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general; Richard Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence; Matthew G. Whitaker, former acting attorney general; and Kimberly Guilfoyle, a TV personality engaged to Donald Trump Jr.
This being an election year, several politicians are expected to participate in the highly publicized horse race. Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, held a press conference at the media center on Saturday afternoon. Asked about fundraising, he said the Derby was “open to everyone”.
The fundraiser will be held in what was described by Abeln as a semi-private space, most likely in the Derby’s playground for the wealthy called Millionaire’s Row which sits above the track and includes a maze of ‘exclusive spaces, nor is the 8,000 -square-foot area simply referred to as the mansion.
The Secret Service is coordinating with the runway security team. No outside food will be allowed at the event, Abeln said, adding that “anyone who attends this event would get 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 the national conversation, calling the horse a “junkie” in a statement.