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No, Kentucky Derby winner Sonny Leon didn’t turn down an invitation to visit the White House

Jockey Sonny Leon didn’t turn down an invitation to visit President Joe Biden at the White House after his Kentucky Derby win, as social media posts claim.
Credit: AP
Jockey Sonny Leon celebrates after winning the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 7, 2022, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

In one of the biggest upsets in Kentucky Derby history, jockey Sonny Leon and racehorse Rich Strike took home the title. 

After Leon’s win, some social media posts on Twitter, Reddit and Facebook said Sonny Leon – and his horse – declined an invitation to meet with President Joe Biden at the White House. The posts attribute the following quote to Leon: “If I wanted to see a horse’s ass, I would have came in second.”

Google Trends data also show that people are asking whether Leon turned down an invitation to the White House.

THE QUESTION

Did Kentucky Derby winner Sonny Leon turn down an invitation to visit the White House?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, Kentucky Derby winner Sonny Leon didn’t turn down an invitation to visit the White House. This joke has been repeated multiple times on social media over the years in connection with other race winners.

WHAT WE FOUND

There is no record of Leon declining an invitation to the White House online or in video following his Kentucky Derby win. VERIFY searched Leon’s Instagram and Twitter accounts and found no mention of the quote on either account. 

There are no mentions elsewhere of Leon saying this following his Kentucky Derby win, either. Here’s what he did say, according to quotes provided by Churchill Downs racetrack: “You know we had a difficult post but I know the horse. I didn’t know if he could win but I had a good feeling with him. I had to wait until the stretch and that’s what I did. I waited and then the rail opened up. I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. Nobody knows my horse like I know my horse.”

Identical posts about declined invitations to the White House have been falsely attributed to past Kentucky Derby winners. 

In 2021, a viral Facebook post claimed Medina Spirit's jockey John Velazquez, who won the Kentucky Derby that year, also turned down an invitation to the White House. It used the same “horse’s ass” quote. The poster later clarified that they were joking.

Velazquez also responded to the claims in a tweet by saying he hadn’t been invited to the White House. 

Another tweet from May 2021 about racehorse Medina Spirit declining an invite to meet with former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Florida used the same language. 

But these weren’t the first instances of the joke circulating on social media. In 2018, the same thing was said about the winner of the Triple Crown, another American horseracing championship, in a post to the r/Jokes Reddit thread.

VERIFY reached out to Leon, the Kentucky Derby and the White House for comment, but did not receive a reply by the time of publication. A spokesperson for the Churchill Downs Foundation said they had “no knowledge of the situation” and were unable to comment. 

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so that you can understand what is true and false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn More »

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