Living life between the barrel staves in Bourbon Country

The Obligatory Kentucky Derby Interlude

Churchill Down's Twin Spires logo in the floor of the Gate 17 atrium

The following story is all true except perhaps the reporter’s background, which – if not confirmable – is at least highly suspected.

In Lexington, the Derby coverage starts early in the day on Friday with the running of the Kentucky Oaks, and pretty much continues until after the world’s most famous horse race is over Saturday evening. The rest of the country mercifully only has about 3 hours of it to endure. But here, 70 miles to the east of Churchill Downs and smack dab in the middle of the world’s thoroughbred breeding grounds, the race is a multi-day extravaganza that takes on Olympic proportions.

Every year the network affiliate has their reporters in the Paddock looking for celebrities to interview. A few years ago the reporter in question was a pretty little lady in her late twenties, undoubtedly from Eastern Kentucky and a graduate of UK’s College of Journalism. Sometimes I think that is the sole purpose of that College – to provide enough eye candy to cover the Derby – because you rarely see any of these people the rest of the year. Anyway, here she was in the Paddock, decked out in her Derby finest and taking the whole hat thing way to seriously. You just know she’s been talking to her family back in Hazard or Pikeville all week and somewhere either on a mountaintop or down in a hollow her kinfolk have assembled to watch their precious little baby make her big splash as a credentialed Derby reporter.

So who is the first celebrity Miss Pike County encounters….

… Gene Simmons.

Somehow, I knew from the moment the camera cut to them that this was not going to go well. There is the KISS frontman decked out in a tux and wearing sunglasses, with what I assume was his de facto wife Shannon Tweed on one arm, and a younger more buxom version of his wife on the other. Our intrepid reporter, the past Miss Kentucky Third Runner-Up, asks the obligatory question of what horses they are picking. As Blondes #1 and #2 reveal they had dropped $100K of Gene’s money on bets already, and as Gene acted like this is somehow bothering him, the former Sorghum Festival Queen asks Gene if he thinks he’ll get lucky later….

Oh no she didn’t! I thought. Freudian slip of the month club, we have winner. She meant to ask a horseracing question, but instead we have Double Entendre coming the stretch for the win.

As I watched with growing horror, I saw a thin smile break out on Gene’s lips, kind of like a wolf gazing down at a gazelle before he moves in for the kill. Our reporter, a true coal miner’s daughter, just stood there with her microphone sticking out at Gene’s face oblivious to what was about to transpire. Gene looked the reporter up and down over the top of his sunglasses as if he were appraising a horse at auction, and said, “After $100K I plan on getting lucky later. You should come with us, you might get lucky too.”

I closed my eyes at this point, so I don’t know if he showed her his tongue or not. The sick part of my brain wants to believe he did, but for the sake of her mother in Appalachia who had already passed out on the floor, and her dear Aunt Margaret who was likely praying fervently in a corner, I hope he didn’t.

So this year instead of betting on the horses, try this game instead. Watch the Paddock reporters on Saturday and spot the journalistic train wreck before it happens. I’m putting my money on Dr. Love – for the trifecta of course.


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