General Norman Schwarzkopf had a Kentucky Derby connection

Norman Schwarzkopf, Grand Marshall of the 1991 Pegasus Parade (AP Photo - Bud Kraft)

On Thursday, we heard that General H. Norman Schwarzkopf had passed away at age 78.  Our first thoughts went to the 1991 Kentucky Derby.

For that connection, one must remember the times.  Schwarzkopf commanded the United States led international coalition that drove Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait during the first Gulf War in 1991.  General Schwarzkopf had become a celebrity at that time and was known popularly as “Stormin’ Norman” due to his recent success in Kuwait.  Others mentioned that his nickname came from his explosive temper and still others thought it was due to his commanding Operation Desert Storm.  Guess one never really knows how nicknames start.

In 1991, Schwarzkopf was invited and did serve as the Grand Marshall of the “Pegasus Parade” more commonly known as the Kentucky Derby Festival Parade held on the Thursday before Derby Day.  The parade was dedicated to the soldiers who took part in Operation Desert Storm.  The General’s wife, Brenda was a horse racing fan and was said to be very excited about the thought of coming to the Kentucky Derby.

While many Kentucky Derby Tours participants and Derby fans were thinking about horses like Sea Cadet, Best Pal, Hansel, and eventual 1991 Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold, it seemed others we just as excited about the prospect of seeing General Schwarzkopf. It was the first time that we ever saw the Pegasus Parade overshadow the Derby horses on the evening news on the Thursday before Derby.

Everything was very “hush, hush” as to his schedule.  There was no announced itinerary of what he would do and when he would arrive in Louisville.  In 2012, it sounds funny but we had never seen security as tight around Derby events.  In fact, security was very tight around any and all Derby week events – just in case the Schwarzkopf’s attended.  It was believed that they stayed at a military base instead of a local hotel for security purposes.

Usually one only hears the infield crowd roar when a race goes off on Derby Day.  This year, up went a tremendous roar and eventually all eyes in the large crowd went to Millionaire’s Row (4th level at Churchill Downs).  General Schwarzkopf stood on the balcony and waved to the crowd for at least 5 minutes.  Kentucky Derby Tours is still not sure how many people were more thrilled to see the race that day or to see General Schwarzkopf.