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New Kentucky Derby sponsor: Out with the Colonel, in with the bourbon

Chris Morris, Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve distillery, prepares a mint julep for Anita Cauley, right with hat, in the Brown Forman tent before the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Saturday May 4, 2013. On Oct. 25, Churchill Downs announced Woodford Reserve will be the presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby.
Chris Morris, Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve distillery, prepares a mint julep for Anita Cauley, right with hat, in the Brown Forman tent before the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Saturday May 4, 2013. On Oct. 25, Churchill Downs announced Woodford Reserve will be the presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby. Herald-Leader

Churchill Downs announced on Wednesday that it won’t be the Yum Kentucky Derby anymore. Instead, horse racing’s big day will be a big bourbon party: It’s now the Kentucky Derby, presented by Woodford Reserve.

LOGO Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve
The Kentucky Derby will now be sponsored by Woodford Reserve rather than Yum Brands. Brown-Forman, which owns Woodford Reserve Bourbon, was founded in 1870, five years before the first Kentucky Derby. Image provided

Terms of the sponsorship were not disclosed but it’s a five-year agreement that will begin in 2018. Woodford Reserve, which is owned by Louisville-based Brown-Forman, also will become the presenting sponsor of the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the series of 37 races that horses must run in to earn points toward eligibility in the race for 3-year-olds. The Woodford Reserve Distillery is in Versailles.

Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said that with the growth of the Derby, the expansion of the partnership with Brown-Forman “is an important step in the continued growth of the Kentucky Derby as a premier international entertainment event.”

In 2014, Churchill Downs and Yum had announced a five-year extension of its presenting sponsorship which was scheduled to run through 2020. Churchill Downs didn’t spell out what happened to its partnership with Yum, the Louisville parent of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, but a news release indicated the change was a mutual decision.

Carstanjen said in a statement: “The creation of a presenting sponsor was an important step in the ongoing growth of the Kentucky Derby and we deeply appreciate the support of Yum Brands for more than a decade in that groundbreaking role.”

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Nyquist winning the 2016 Kentucky Derby in front of a Yum sign at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Kentuckyderby.com

Yum CEO Greg Creed said his company was proud to have been the first-ever presenting sponsor, but that times have changed.

“The initial focus of our sponsorship in 2006 was to leverage the Kentucky Derby’s global TV audience to build awareness with individual investors who knew our well-known restaurant brands but not Yum. Since then, Yum’s visibility has grown significantly and we’ve shifted our marketing focus to our brands,” Creed said in a statement. “We’re pleased to pass the torch to Brown-Forman, another Louisville original.”

Brown-Forman has been a corporate partner for more than 30 years; Woodford Reserve Bourbon has been the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby since 1999 and has sponsored a turf race on Derby Day since 2000.

“We are thrilled to be making this announcement and look forward to furthering our relationship with the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs,” said Paul Varga, Brown-Forman CEO. “The Kentucky Derby is a legendary horse race with a premier sports experience and we believe putting together two of Kentucky’s finest — Woodford Reserve and the Kentucky Derby — is a natural fit.”

Old Forester, another Brown-Forman brand, will return as the official mint julep of the Kentucky Derby, as it has been since 2015. And Old Forester will become a sponsor of “Thurby,” the day of racing on the Thursday before the Derby that has become a favorite of locals.

Brown-Forman said Woodford Reserve will “leverage all of the partnerships associated with the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs and the Road to the Kentucky Derby, including the NBC tie-in and signage throughout the track.”

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