Spectators will no longer be cheering from the grandstands, and photos will capture fewer congratulatory hugs and handshakes.
But that moment — when the horses leave the gate and the words “they’re off” are uttered — will still hold palpable excitement.
Because the Kentucky Derby is not just a horse race.
The oldest continuous sporting event in the United States brings people together from across the globe — even if just for two minutes.
Bruce Lunsford understands the significance of tradition.
“The Derby energizes people around the world, and that excitement gives Kentuckians a chance to share the best of our city and state,” he said. “Whether we do that in May or September, our love for the thoroughbred industry and the history of the Kentucky Derby is constant.”
From a successful career in business and public service to his pursuit of a horseracing passion — the Northern Kentucky native has always been deeply rooted in the Bluegrass.
In 1965, Lunsford arrived at the University of Kentucky an eager freshman. He worked as an intramural advisor and was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.
“During my freshman year, my friends and I would head to Keeneland on the weekends. I will always remember being there in 1966 for the Blue Grass Stakes when the favorite, Graustark, was leading for most of the race and then took a bad step — only to lose by a nose to Abe’s Hope,” he recalled. “I fell in love with racing that day, and my dream was to own a horse who could compete in the Blue Grass Stakes.”
But that dream would take serious commitment.
In 1969, Lunsford earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. After graduation, he went to work for an accounting firm in Cincinnati. Then, it was night classes at law school.
“I strongly believe in formative years where you spend a portion of your life learning and preparing to live,” Lunsford said. “I crammed a lot into a short period of time. I did five years of public service in accounting, passed my CPA exam and moved on to practicing law. It was a great experience for me.”
At the age of 32, Lunsford was appointed the state’s first secretary of commerce by Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. Then, he co-founded Vencor Inc. — the nationwide health care group known as Kindred. His successful companies, which also include Atria Communities, Lunsford Capital and Ventas Inc., eventually employed more than 100,000 people nationwide.
Additionally, from 1983-1987, Lunsford was a member of the UK Board of Trustees, and from 1991-2017, he served as a board member for a variety of prestigious companies, including Churchill Downs.
Lunsford has always been active in the thoroughbred industry, but he vowed to never enter the Derby unless he had a contender.
That’s where Art Collector comes in.
The homebred horse has become “the one to watch” after clenching a win at the Ellis Park Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes.
“The timing of the race has been providential for Art Collector. He came out of a race earlier this year a little bruised. In the spring, he was resting, swimming and rehabilitating at Kesmarc in Versailles, and then he began training again with Tommy Drury at Skylight Training Center in Louisville,” Lunsford explained. “Tommy has done an excellent job in preparing Art Collector for this moment to be a strong contender among the top three-year-olds in our industry. Having the Derby in September has made our long-held dream a possibility for Art Collector.”
Now, Lunsford is giving Kentuckians — specifically, the UK community — more reasons to rally around the Derby hopeful. The UK alumnus has pledged to donate 10% of Art Collector’s Derby winnings to support UK’s capital campaign, Kentucky Can.
“Bruce’s generous contribution binds the long-standing Kentucky tradition of horse racing to our enduring history as the Commonwealth’s institution,” President Eli Capilouto said. “As the University of, for and with Kentucky, he is an example of how we carry out our mission to serve our community on campus and beyond in the areas of education, research, service and care.”
The comprehensive campaign increases opportunities for student success, funds innovative research, improves health care, strengthens the alumni network and enhances athletic programs.
“The education that I received at UK was the foundation of my career, and it has been a pleasure to support students through the College of Arts and Sciences as they look forward to a career in public service,” Lunsford said. “Additionally, I am more than enthusiastic about Eli Capilouto’s leadership and the tremendous job that he is doing at UK.”
Over the years, Lunsford has continued to give back to the university — establishing the Lunsford Scholars Program in Citizenship and Public Service in the College of Arts and Sciences with a $1 million pledge.
The program provides A&S students the chance to pursue out-of-the-classroom educational opportunities including education abroad, internships, service-based learning and undergraduate research. Aside from student scholarships, the donation also supports a symposium and speaker series to be held each year.
“I’m a real believer in opportunities that go along with your education,” Lunsford continued. “The College of Arts and Sciences gave me a quality education in big areas like history and political science, which lined up well with my accounting classes.”
Lunsford says his time at UK opened doors of opportunity — allowing him to pursue his passion and purpose. Now, he hopes to continue his long-standing tradition of providing help to deserving students.
“Looking back, there really wasn’t much that I could have asked for from the University of Kentucky that I didn’t get.”
Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign is a comprehensive campaign focused on increasing opportunities for student success, funding innovative research, improving health care, strengthening our alumni network, and supporting our athletic programs. For more information about Kentucky Can, visit kentuckycan.uky.edu.