THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to today’s Kentucky Derby conference call. Our record 15 and a half hours of live coverage begins tomorrow, Wednesday, at 5:30 p.m. eastern on the Kentucky Derby Draw Show on NBCSN and culminates this Saturday, May 2nd, at 4:00 p.m. eastern on NBC with our coverage of the 141st Kentucky Derby.
Joining us on today’s call are our lifestyle and fashion consultants Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski who return for their second Derby fresh off last weekend’s White House correspondents dinner. Also with us is NBC’s Kentucky Derby coordinating producer Rob Hyland. Each will make a brief opening comments and then we’ll take your questions.
ROB HYLAND: Thanks, Dan. Tara and Johnny return to cover lifestyle and fashion at this year’s Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, and we’re really excited about having them back. This event is so much more than just a horse race, and you don’t have to be a sports fan to know of Churchill Downs and the images it conjures up – high fashion, infield revelers, mint juleps and obviously the famed twin spires. As soon as last year’s show ended, our production team was already thinking about ways to expand their role this year, and we have a lot of fun elements planned for this weekend, and I look forward to this weekend’s shows.
JOHNNY WEIR: Hi, everyone. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, even if over the phone, not in person, but I personally am so excited to return to the Derby for the second year in a row. Working with NBC and Rob, and of course my munchkin Tara Lipinski. We had the best time last year, and when we go to events like the Kentucky Derby or the Super Bowl this year, or of course the Olympics, we not only see ourselves as sporting experts but also as sort of cultural attachés. We are right in the living room with the rest of America, who is experiencing a lot of this special event for the first time. So, we’re super excited about our role with NBC and taking over all of the NBC social media for the week leading up to the Derby, and it’s just such an exciting time and a way for us to celebrate spring and celebrate sports.
TARA LIPINSKI: Yeah, and I feel the same way. I’m just excited to go back a second time. Last year was my first time ever going to the Derby, so my eyes were wide open, and I was in awe, and it was just so much fun, and of course this year I feel like a pro going back.
But I think also what’s exciting for me is that Johnny and I, coming off of Sochi, one of our first big events last year was the Kentucky Derby, so everything was very new to us, and I think over this past year, we’ve settled into this new role which I’m very grateful for, because obviously we’re skating experts, but to be able to branch off and sort of expand our roles has been a dream. It’s so exciting to be at the Super Bowl or at the Kentucky Derby.
I feel like we’ve settled in, and we’re ready to do even more and have more fun with it. So I can’t wait to get there.
I guess it’s a question for Rob and also for Tara and Johnny. Rob, can you talk about how do you put these guys into such a huge, long broadcast over a couple of days, and then I guess for Johnny and Tara, knowing that it’s obviously horse racing in the middle of it but so much more, how do you find your niche in the middle of all that?
ROB HYLAND: I’ll start. Obviously the broadcast is a balance of sports, lifestyle, entertainment, and your question is just that. It is a mix of all of those things. Fitting Johnny and Tara in naturally is pretty easy with a telecast like this. We have so much airtime throughout the day that we can continually go back down the red carpet, we can go to the paddock balcony to check in with them. We have various locations for them where they will appear throughout the telecast and show case different elements to the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks.
We fit that around the racing, and the race reports throughout the day, but there are natural times where they will occur.
TARA LIPINSKI: Yeah, and I would just say that for me being part of an event like this, I feel like we’ve fit pretty easily, because it’s so obvious that we’re not commentating on the horses, and this event is just so much more than that, as well. You have the hats and the fashion and the mint juleps, and it’s just such a big, fun, social event that I feel like Johnny and I get to give sort of a behind the scenes sneak-peek at what goes on at these big sporting events.
JOHNNY WEIR: And for me, I think as a viewer of these events, you may not necessarily have ever been to or thought of going to, my job is to help people at home understand what’s going on, understand the environment, understand what they’re seeing, what the event smells like, feels like, and make it very visceral, very real life so everyone sitting in their living room can come and make them want to put on a hat and celebrate this amazing sporting event with us all. I think Tara and I have really shown our fans and the American public that we really will dig in and try anything, and for the most part we’re pretty good at it. We have the best time, and I think fitting us into a broadcast, brushing off my own shoulders while saying it, is pretty easy because we are open and able to do a lot of different things.
TARA LIPINSKI: Yeah, I think Tara and Johnny are up for anything.
If I could ask a follow up quickly, in terms of your first time last year going there, did it meet any expectation? Did anything surprise you? What did you take away from that heading into this year?
JOHNNY WEIR: Well, I had attended the Derby once before just as a guest of the event, and last year was my first time there in an official capacity. The two experiences were quite different, quite eye opening in their own ways. You know, the first time I went, I had only ever watched it on television with my parents and friends, and it just seemed like a very faraway, sort of crazy day with hats and mint juleps, and why was this event so special. Then when I went there, it was just so wonderful, almost in a very small way like the Olympic Games where you get completely caught up in the environment.
Last year the hustle and bustle and moving through crowds and trying to get to our marks and our places was quite eye opening. I think the most shocking thing about the Kentucky Derby both times that I’ve been is the line at the airport to leave. That’s shocking in a bad way, because everyone tries to get out the next morning all at the same time, and it takes forever.
TARA LIPINSKI: Yeah, and I would just say pretty much the same thing. For me it was actually my very first time, so it was just a little bit overwhelming, but very exciting, and I just never realized how huge of an event it is when you’re there, as far as the party and just sitting on our little paddock. We were looking down the first day, and everyone was out there in their bright colors and hats, and it’s just such a fun and fresh event that for me, I just couldn’t wait to get back this year.
Can you kind of talk about everything that’s going on this week? You’ve had a whirlwind week. Tell me about the experience coming off the White House Correspondents’ dinner and heading into the Kentucky Derby. How do you juggle both events, two very different and major events?
TARA LIPINSKI: It’s been hectic, just speaking about fashion, the amount of outfits and shoes that I’m bringing, and I’m sure, Johnny, you’re in the same boat, we like surpassed what we’ve done in the past. Going to the White House, again, that was like the first time for both events that we were ever invited back, and it was a pretty big honor. So, getting a dress for that and then planning about five looks for the Derby, it’s been having me run all over the city.
JOHNNY WEIR: And for me, definitely the most hectic and stressful part is getting the look all put together and making sure that my hat is done because, again, this year I’m doing a wild and crazy custom hat by Kerin Rose. I am very micromanaging, so everyone that’s doing anything for me, I have to be a part of the process, and I don’t just trust that the FedEx box will get there; it’s fine. Definitely packing and going to the White House Correspondents’ dinner over the weekend, and then I was at home visiting with family and will actually leave for the Derby tomorrow. Doing everything sort of remotely is super difficult.
But it’s all worth it when we have that moment where we are on camera and we’re live, and we know that not only what we have to say and what we bring to the table as far as energy, but our fashions and our looks really entertain people, and I think we’ve really found our stride, and Tara and I, we’re pretty much matched up on wavelengths where we don’t even have to talk and we’ll end up matching.
TARA LIPINSKI: Yes.
JOHNNY WEIR: It’s very special. You know, it’s all about the entertainment, and as natural born entertainers, it comes easy to us, but it is stressful preparing and getting everything into suitcases with wheels so you can actually get to the destination.
You were kind enough last year, Johnny, to give us a little sneak peek on that Pegasus hat. Could you give a little sneak peek this year, and do you indeed plan to have it sent in by FedEx?
JOHNNY WEIR: Yes, my hat will be arriving by FedEx later in the week, but the only thing I’ll give away is that my hat this year, last year it was very literal, it was called Pegasus, but this year it’s a little more conceptual. I’ve entitled it ‘To the Victor Goes the Spoils.’ Think of that what you will, but it’s going to be very aggressive and very fun, and I’ll be very proud to wear it.