Wheels Up, a New York-based private aviation membership company whose fleet comprises Textron Aviation aircraft, said on Thursday it will sponsor race horse American Pharoah, the 2015 Kentucky Derby winner and the favorite in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, will sport the Wheels Up brand on the leg of his pants in the race. Wheels Up will also have a presence at related events.
Wheels Up founder and CEO Kenny Dichter said Thursday that he thinks Wichitans should be rooting for American Pharoah in the race because of the new affiliation with Wheels Up.
“We have an iconic horse race,” Dichter said. “We have an iconic airplane in the (Beechcraft) King Air 350i. And we have an inconic race horse in American Pharoah.”
Wheels Up fleet of aircraft comprises the King Air 350i and Cessna Citation Excel/XLS business jets, which are manufactured by Textron Aviation in Wichita.
At the European Business Aviation Convention & Exposition in May, Wheels Up announced it exercised an option for 35 additional King Air 350is — a deal valued at $500 million — bringing its total number of firm orders for the airplane to 70.
Dichter reasons that American Pharoah’s success at Belmont would mean more success for Wheels Up, and by extension, Textron Aviation and Wichita.
“Wichita now has a stake in the race,” he said.