Political Derby Stories: Gov. John Y Brown and the 1983 Derby Eve Gala

A dig through the archives shows former Gov. John Y. Brown could put on a Kentucky Derby eve party that even Bill Clinton was talking about a decade later.

Brown, who served a term as Governor from 1979 to 1983, held the 1983 Derby Eve Gala in Frankfort that drew a cast of future presidents.

Then-Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ivana Trump, Donald Trump, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, then-Vice President George H. W. Bush, Barbara Bush, and former President Jimmy Carter all attended the event with more than 500 people who were said to be in attendance.

The event was held at the Governor’s mansion in Frankfort and began with a formal dinner held in a large tent behind the mansion, followed by dancing in the ballroom that went on until 1 am, according to the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.

In a document found by Kentucky Fried Politics in the National Archives, former President Clinton remarked on the event in a speech at the DNC Dinner at the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington. D.C.

“It was an amazing event. I’d never been before and actually have never gotten a chance to go back since,” Clinton said in 1999. “But it was the last year in office of Governor John Y. Brown – all of you will remember how sort of staid and laid back John Y Brown is. (Laughter.) He had Al Hirt playing at the breakfast before the – My Old Kentucky Home.”

“And all I remember about the Kentucky Derby is that I was perfectly sure what horse would win, and the only person in this vast party John Y Brown had assembled who would bet on the horse I recommended was Lynda Carter. And I have been for them ever since, whatever the
issue is. (Laughter.) Oh, and the horse won by three lengths. (Applause.)”

It was reportedly the Brown’s first night staying in the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion, as it had been closed previously for major renovations.