In May 2022, shortly after racehorse Rich Strike and jockey Sonny Leon became the improbable winners of the Kentucky Derby, a rumor started to circulate on social media that Leon had turned down an invitation to the White House, saying that if he “wanted to see a horse’s ass, I would have finished second.”
This is not a genuine quote from Leon.
If this rumor sounds a bit familiar, it’s because this joke often circulates each year right after the Kentucky Derby. In 2021, for example, a joke was spread on social media that that year’s winning jockey, John Velazquez, had said the exact same phrase after turning down down an invitation to visit U.S. President Joe Biden. And in 2018, a near verbatim copy of this joke was posted to Reddit about a jockey turning down an invitation to meet former U.S. President Donald Trump.
In addition to this quote being a clear fabrication, it’s worth noting that Kentucky Derby winners don’t typically get invitations to the White House. While we found several examples of presidents attending the derby, we were only able to find one example of a derby winner getting a White House invite. In 2007, Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel was invited to a state dinner at the White House in honor of in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. In other words, this isn’t an annual tradition.
As far as we can tell, Leon didn’t make any overtly political statements in the aftermath of his derby win. Leon’s post-derby comments were, unsurprisingly, about winning the Kentucky Derby. Leon said:
“You know we had a difficult post but I know the horse. I didn’t know if he could win but I had a good feeling with him. I had to wait until the stretch and that’s what I did. I waited and then the rail opened up. I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. Nobody knows my horse like I know my horse.”
Jockey Quotes From The 148th Running Of The Kentucky Derby. https://www.kentuckyderby.com/horses/news/jockey-quotes-from-the-148th-running-of-the-kentucky-derby. Accessed 9 May 2022.
“Kentucky Derby Winner Declines White House Invitation: ‘If I Wanted to See a Horse’s Ass I Would’ve Come in Second’ • Genesius Times.” Genesius Times, 9 May 2022, https://genesiustimes.com/kentucky-derby-winner-declines-white-house-invitation-if-i-wanted-to-see-a-horses-ass-i-wouldve-come-in-second/.
U.S. Presidents and the Kentucky Derby. https://www.kentuckyderby.com/blog/celebrity/us-presidents-and-the-kentucky-derby. Accessed 9 May 2022.