The Churchill Downs red carpet was back in full force Saturday as celebrities returned to Louisville for the 148th Kentucky Derby.
Ahead of the Run for the Roses, famous people from near and far posed as they made their way down the carpet, with no shortage of colorful, eye-popping hats, seersucker sport coats and winning horse predictions.
Even an inflatable Tyrannosaurus rex (Rexy, who, yes, wore a fascinator) promoting the latest installment in the “Jurassic Park” franchise clomped along the red carpet.
First-time Derbygoer Jason Aldean, who did an impromptu performance of “Pink Houses” at the Barnstable Brown Derby Eve Gala the night before, said he loved reuniting with other country music stars at the party.
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Like a number of celebrities who spoke with The Courier Journal, Aldean said he hadn’t done too much homework on his horse pick.
“I know zero about horse racing,” said the country music star. “I’m going to be like, ‘That horse looks cool. It looks like it might win. That’s my strategy.’”
Rapper Jack Harlow perhaps caused the biggest stir, with dozens in his entourage flooding the red carpet. Onlookers shouted his name as he passed by, phones in hand trying to snap a picture of the Louisville native.
Harlow was also working at the racetrack Saturday, filming a music video for his new song “Churchill Downs” featuring rap superstar Drake.
Actor Michael Gross made his return to Louisville this Kentucky Derby weekend. Before he starred on “Family Ties” in the 1980s, he lived in Old Louisville in the mid-1970s and worked at Actors Theater of Louisville.
Though he admitted he had no idea how to place his bet Saturday, he said he’s grateful to be back in a place that holds much meaning for him.
“I never got to the Derby because I was always busy working,” he said. “I’m here because I’m a people watcher.”
Current and retired athletes showing up in style Saturday on the red carpet included an array of football players, like University of Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, ex-University of Louisville stars Brian Brohm and Eric Wood, Hall of Famers Warren Moon and Franco Harris, and recently drafted Atlanta Falcons QB Desmond Ridder.
Ridder, an alum of Louisville’s St. Xavier High School and the University of Cincinnati, was joined Saturday by his fiancée, Claire Cornett.
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The couple said they are preparing to head to Atlanta this upcoming week as minicamp approaches, and they still need to lock down housing.
Familiar faces of the Churchill Downs red carpet returned this year, including TV personality Star Jones (marking her 10th Derby), singer Taylor Dayne and singer and actor Joey Fatone.
He was wearing one of the more eye-popping jackets, featuring a wide array of colors and flowers, which Fatone said he got from an Orlando, Florida, shop he goes to each year for his Derby outfit.
Though Derby is old hat for Fatone, new this year was his daughter, Briahna, at his side. wearing a wide-brimmed light purple hat she purchased in Louisville.
“I had never brought any woman to Derby,” Fatone said, “so we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh. We need to get you a hat.'”
Reporter Matthew Glowicki can be reached at 502-582-4000, email@example.com or on Twitter at @MattGlo.