(WHAS11) - For the 53rd consecutive year, the Kentucky Derby Festival officially kicked off with the They're Off! Luncheon. TV personality and author Robin Roberts addressed more than 2,000 Festival supporters and patrons in attendance for this tradition. The event was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Galt House East Hotel, site of the festive affair since 1974.
Roberts, who is co-anchor of ABC News' Good Morning America , reports on a wide array of topics and issues for the morning broadcast. She has covered numerous special events ranging from the homecoming of soldiers aboard the USS Roosevelt to the Golden Jubilee at Buckingham Palace to the 25th anniversary of the papacy of Pope John Paul II in Vatican City. From 1990 to 2005, Roberts was also a contributor to ESPN, where she was one of the network's most versatile commentators. Her assignments there included hosting SportsCenter , contributing to NFL Prime Time from 1990-1994 and interviews from the field.
Also at the luncheon was the presentation of the Silver Horseshoe Award, given annually to a group or individual who has made significant contributions to the Thoroughbred racing industry/service to the community. This year's Silver Horseshoe recipient was the late filly Eight Belles, who finished runner-up in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, a race run by only 39 fillies in the past. Accepting the award was Ricky and Betsy Porter, owners of Eight Belles. The Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation, the Derby Festival's charitable arm, will present a check for $5,000 to Thoroughbred Charities of America in memory of Eight Belles.
First held in 1957, the second year of the Derby Festival, the They're Off! Luncheon serves as the time-honored kickoff to each year's Festival. The event is sponsored by Norton Healthcare. Bluegrass Family Health and Business First are contributing sponsors.