World War II veteran Alan Reeves had some advice for Fox Hill Farm's Rick Porter on May 3 when he and three other veterans of the Normandy Invasion visited Barn 42, where Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contender Normandy Invasion is stabled.
Recalling Gen. Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower's final words of "now let's go" when he launched the mission that resulted in the establishment of Allied troops in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, Reeves told Porter: "Maybe you should talk to the horse and when he gets to the head of the stretch tomorrow you have the jockey whisper in his ear 'let's go.' You can't lose."
Reeves, a spry, amiable 92-year-old from San Diego, Calif., was joined by fellow veterans Bill Wilch and Ray Woods, both from Ohio, and J.J. Witmeyer of New Orleans, La.
Porter said Victoria Keith of Fox Hill played a role in organizing the veterans' visit to Churchill Downs, along with the assistance of Churchill Downs' largest shareholder, Richard Duchossois, the chairman of Arlington Park who served in the military in Normandy following the invasion.
Reeves, Woods, and Wittmeyer—all veterans of the U.S. Army—have the unique distinction of being awarded Chavaliers in the French Legion of Honor. Wilch could not have received the award because he served in the Navy, according to Reeves.
"This is a very unusual event for us," Reeves said, adding that he and the other veterans had been to Churchill Downs previously. "We're here to support the horse and his name...You notice the number of the horse Normandy Invasion is number five. On D-Day there were five divisions that landed in Normandy—two British, one Canadian, and the two American divisions. So the five has somewhat of a significance for us."
"They are certainly true heroes," Porter said of his guests who got to meet the horse that is a 12-1 morning line shot in the Derby.