With the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes sees a potential political message in the upset hopes of a particular thoroughbred: Vicar’s in Trouble, who’ll be jockeyed by a woman who would become the first female rider to win the storied race.
“Vicar’s in Trouble — I just love the name, and I think it resonates well with Mitch McConnell is in trouble now,” Grimes told me and ESPN’s Andy Katz in the latest episode of the Capital Games podcast, part of the new ESPN Perspectives series.
“He spent over $12 million against me, and we have not spent any money yet on big advertising. And we are ahead now — even or ahead in these past 14 polls that have been taken,” Grimes continued.
“So Vicar’s in Trouble especially has caught my eye because it’s likewise — it’s got a great female jockey on there with Rosie Napravnik, who is looking to make history with the fastest two minutes in sports the same way that I do believe we will come November when Kentucky elects its first female United States senator.”
Vicar’s in Trouble remains a longshot, with 30-1 odds after drawing the difficult No. 1 post position. Grimes, the Kentucky secretary of state, said her favorite to win is actually the Kentucky-bred Medal Count.
“Many will recall I got to be secretary of state my first ever statewide race by actually getting more votes than the governor got, so I think that shows the strength of what’s especially behind our candidacy, the ability to connect in Kentucky through and through,” she said.
“For me, Medal Count — it’s a bluegrass horse that performed well, especially at Keeneland, two big performances leading up to the Derby. And I think that if the track is clear which the weather looks now, [it] sets up for some good speed.”
McConnell, the Senate minority leader, declined to be interviewed for our podcast. Other guests in this episode include University of Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino, who is also a horse owner, and Trey Grayson, a Republican former Kentucky secretary of state who is now director of the Harvard University Institute of Politics.
You can listen to the full podcast HERE.
Grimes didn’t limit her trash talk to horse racing. She reminded us of a March Madness ad McConnell’s campaign released this year that mistakenly included a scene of Duke celebrating a national championship – a no-no in the state that’s home to powerful Louisville and Kentucky hoops programs.
“Mitch McConnell’s alma mater is the University of Louisville, but he couldn’t actually tell the different between a Duke jersey and a University of Kentucky jersey during the NCAA tournament — you guys will recall that,” she said. “I bleed [Kentucky] blue, actually I live steps from Rupp arena.”
At another point in the interview, Grimes said: “Nothing like the homestretch at Churchill Downs – well, unless it’s the last two minutes of the NCAA tournament and you’re handing the ball to Aaron Harrison [a Kentucky freshman]. He’s proved he’s good in the clutch just like we’re going to do in this Senate race, I tell you.”
Grimes recalled attending the race as a child, when her family’s catering business was involved in serving some of the 150,000 people who attend the annual race. The race has developed into a must-attend event for politicians of both parties, and Grimes said the most important thing a politician can do is go in with “rested feet.”
“It’s a time when politics is actually set aside. Even though there will be a lot of politicians there, it’s set aside and everybody is enjoying what’s best about our state, that it has to offer and especially the future of Kentucky,” she said.
“You’re mingling and having fun. And most importantly getting to present to those that are not familiar with Kentucky what is best about our state and the future direction that we hope to go in, not the past that we’ve had with the past 30 years with Mitch McConnell.”
“Capital Games with Katz and Klein” is a part of the new podcast series, ESPN Perspectives, with original programming on issues across the sports world. The program explores the intersection of sports and politics, through interviews and analysis, and can be downloaded free via iTunes.