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Media post: Exploring the History Between Ford and the Kentucky Derby

Photo by Vincenzo Malagoli

The Kentucky Derby is one, if not the most popular race in the world. And since the Derby attracts so many viewers, obviously it is the target for other companies to collaborate and partner with in order to promote their products.

One such collaboration is between Churchill Downs and Ford Motor Company.

But this isn’t the first year that we’ve seen Ford pickup trucks on the track. The partnership between these two well-known brands goes back a couple of years. It seems like it is successful since they’ve continued for so long together.

We have to say that we are hardly surprised by this collaboration just because it makes sense. What is the first vehicle that comes to mind when you picture the track where the Kentucky Derby betting happens?

It is probably an off-roader, and this is where Ford shines. Also, the F-150 pickup track is the ideal vehicle when it comes to racehorse owners or somebody who manages a stable.

We will dive deeper into this partnership and find out how and why these two brands came along.

How It All Started?

So, how did a global automotive giant end up in cahoots with the most famous horse race in the United States?

It’s a tale that begins with geography and ends with sheer, unadulterated synergy.

Ford, with its roots firmly planted in the soil of Kentucky thanks to the mammoth Louisville Assembly Plant, found itself neighing in the same paddock as the Kentucky Derby, hosted annually in Louisville. It was a match made in marketing heaven.

Ford and Churchill Downs, the site of the Kentucky Derby, entered into a collaboration in 2020. This agreement was established as a five-year relationship, establishing Ford as the official truck, SUV, sedan, and van of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs​

“Ford is such a vital part of the Louisville community that this new partnership is a natural fit,” said Kevin Flanery, President of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “Ford vehicles power so much of our operations at Churchill Downs and many of our breeders rely on Ford Super Duty trucks to transport their precious cargo.”

Ford’s involvement in this distinctly American event is long overdue, given that the Louisville Assembly Plant and Kentucky Truck Plant are virtually in Churchill Downs’ neighborhood. The Kentucky Derby is the United States’ longest-running sports event, as well as one of the year’s most renowned events.

While our workhorse vehicles serve an important part in many sectors of the equestrian and racing industries, our classic sports car is known as the Mustang, and our much-anticipated off-roading icon is the Bronco. Ford goods embody the freedom associated with the bond between a winning horse and a jockey.

A Union Worth Betting On

Before diving deeper, let’s sprinkle some stats like confetti at a victory parade:

The Louisville Assembly Plant is a behemoth, sprawling over a vast area and employing thousands.

The Kentucky Derby, often dubbed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” attracts over 170,000 spectators annually, not to mention the millions watching from home.

What does this mean? Simply put, Ford had access to a massive, engaged audience, both locally and globally. The Derby offered a unique platform for Ford to showcase its brand in a context dripping with tradition, excitement, and mint juleps.

Just make sure that the cars won’t take too much of your attention. Remember, you should be focusing on the race and possibly making an accurate bet.

Activities and Antics

Ford’s involvement in the Derby is not just about slapping a logo on a banner and calling it a day. Oh no, they went full Kentucky. From parades featuring Ford vehicles to philanthropic activities aligning with Derby’s community spirit, Ford leveraged its partnership to engage with the audience in meaningful ways. Here are a few highlights:

Ford’s Phantasmagorical Parade Floats: These aren’t your grandma’s parade floats. We’re talking about mechanical marvels that capture the imagination and probably could run the Derby themselves if given the chance.

Community Engagement Galore: Ford knows its audience. Engaging in community services and educational programs around Derby time shows they’re not just about horsepower; they’re about heart, too.

Why Do They Even Bother?

You might wonder, “Why does a car company bother with a horse race?” Well, it’s all about connection. The Kentucky Derby is steeped in tradition and Americana, much like the Ford brand itself. By aligning with such an event, Ford taps into a narrative of heritage, competition, and innovation. It’s a storytelling goldmine, enabling Ford to reinforce its identity as a quintessentially American brand with a rich history.

What does the future hold for this horsepower/horsepower duo? If the past is any indicator, we can expect Ford to continue innovating its Derby involvement, perhaps integrating cutting-edge technology or further deepening its community ties. The possibilities are as vast as the Kentucky plains.

Final Words

So, this year, Ford is going to take the main stage of the Kentucky Derby and if you attend the event be prepared to see some Ford vehicles. On the 150th Kentucky Derby they will promote their redesigned F-150 pickup track, and their relatively new off-roader Bronco.

Some brands work really well together, and this collaboration is the perfect example. We shouldn’t be surprised if we see a contract extension after 2025

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