D-Day veterans will be cheering Normandy Invasion in Kentucky Derby

There will be four special guests on Millionaire’s Row at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday to cheer on 12-1 Normandy Invasion as he takes on 18 other 3-year-olds in the 2013 run for the roses.

“We name a lot of horses after patriotic things. And when I went to Normandy in 1994, which was the 50th anniversary, we spent three days there. I was blown away by everything, and they were memories I’ll never forget,” said owner Rick Porter.
Porter, who is a veteran of the Korean War, invited four D-Day veterans to watch his bay Tapit colt. They are:

  • Ray Woods, who was a was a Navy chief radar man on the U.S.S. O’Brien, which Woods said shelled the beach defenses, including after the beach landings to assist in the protection and evacuation of the wounded.
  • Bill Wilch, 89, who was a private in the Army when he hit the beach in the Fox Green sector of Omaha Beach.
  • J.J. Witmeyer Jr., 92, who was an infantry officer. “My job was to lead them ashore. I was in charge of a company of infantry men, Utah Beach,” he said. 
  • Alan Reeves, 91, who in 1944, Reeves was involved in civil affairs with the Army and worked in Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Supreme Command. 

Normandy Invasion was fifth in the Grade II Risen Star but followed that with an impressive second to Verrazano in the Wood Memorial. He prefers to run hard late in the race and catch the leaders in the stretch. Jockey Javier Castellano chose to ride Normandy Invasion over Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary Road.

Normandy Invasion’s training leading up to the Derby has been focused on making the colt a bit quicker earlier in the race. On Thursday, he ran off during training and had an unexpected fast workout just two days before the biggest race of his life. Whether that misstep and his inexperience (he’s only run twice this year with no wins) will hurt his chances is anyone’s guess. For those looking for a price, his 12-1 odds are favorable, but his great backstory is likely to garner him more fans and his price may not be as high by post time.

From left, Ray Woods, Rick Porter  (owner of Normandy Invasion) Ray Woods, Alan Reeves, J. J. Witmeyer, and Chad Brown, trainer of Normandy Invasion stand with the colt at Churchhill Downs on Friday.

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