Tracy Morgan can check the Kentucky Derby off of his bucket list.
The 48-year-old comedian has made it to the Bluegrass State, where “the most exciting two minutes in sports” kicks off Saturday from the famed Churchill Downs in Lousiville.
It’s a dream come true for Morgan, who said at the 29th annual Barnstable Brown Derby Eve Gala on Friday night that he wanted to see a Derby in his lifetime.
“The horses — they’re great athletes. I wanted to see one before I die,” he said — dedicating his trip to his late father.
“I want to do all the things I wanted to do now that I survived that accident,” he continued. “And I’ve always wanted to do the Kentucky Derby.”
“That accident” Morgan is referring to is his terrifying June 2014 bus crash, which took the life of his friend and mentor “Jimmy Mac” McNair and left Morgan fighting for his life in critical condition.
Awaking from a coma two weeks later, the Saturday Night Live alum has faced countless physical hurdles in the three years since — having to re-learn how to walk, sit, and stand while grappling with the cognitive effects of traumatic brain injuries.
He doesn’t take a day for granted now, and said the accident gave him a new outlook on life. “It doesn’t cost nothing to be nice,” Morgan explained on Friday. “I know my purpose in this world is to spread love. I love you and you can’t do nothing about it.”
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And while Morgan hasn’t made his mind up yet on who he is rooting for at Saturday’s race, the Seabiscuit and Secretariat fan said he’s doing the Derby in memory of the late Barbaro — the 2007-winning horse who was euthanized after numerous injuries.
“We loved him,” Morgan said — his wife Megan Wollover by his side. “I’m doing this one for Barbaro. I love you and miss you.”
Morgan was just one of the celebrities at the star-studded gala, which was sponsored by G. H. Mumm. Despite a steady rain, the red carpet was filed with notable names — including Katie Couric, Kacey Musgraves, Harry Connick Jr., Giada De Laurentiis, Stephen Amell, and This is Us’ Justin Hartley.
Tom Brady arrived in a leather jacket, quickly gathering with his Super Bowl winning Patriots squad for a team photo — having missed the White House celebration in April.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, gushed over Jeff Bridges on the red carpet.
Jesse Eisenberg was a last minute addition to the evening, driving down from Indiana where he’s filming his new television series The Market. His wife Anna Strout and their 5-month-old son joined him in Kentucky – though family watched the baby for the evening while mom and dad enjoyed a night out.
Inside the event — held at the private home of Patricia Barnstable Brown, who co-hosts the event with her twin sister Priscilla Barnstable — Eisenberg and Strout jammed while Brian McKnight covered Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” on stage. Other guests mingled, drank and danced the night away.
The night’s biggest draw was its Hall of Fame jam session — with Kid Rock leading Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, Travis Tritt, Brooks and Dunn’s Kix Brooks and The Supremes’ singer Mary Wilson through a medley of impromptu tunes. In addition to classic tunes like “Sweet Home Alabama,” some of the singers’ most famous hits were covered — including Kid Rock’s “Cowboy,” Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive.”
The Barnstable Brown Gala is known for its musical extravaganza. Over the past ten years, the event has raised and donated approximately $13,000,000 to the Barnstable Brown Diabetes and Obesity Research Center at the University of Kentucky.
Patricia and Priscilla co-founded the gala, along with Patricia’s late husband, Dr. David E. Brown.
Kid Rock and Richie Sambora were the last guests to leave, hanging out in the backyard and drinking beers.
Morgan’s first stand-up special since the accident, Staying Alive, will premiere on Netflix on May 16.
- reporting by LIZ MCNEIL