Honestly, the Kentucky Derby will never be the same, not after Johnny Weir and his sidekick Tara Lipinski are through with it.
The skating twosome have been called in to comment on fashion at the 140th running of the iconic race in Louisville, Ky., shown on NBC from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. EST on Saturday. It means that my two worlds are colliding: my horse racing world pre-dated my figure skating world. I’ve seen 49 Kentucky Derbies, been to Churchill Downs 10 times to cover it as a journalist. Some consider it an odd combination: horse racing and figure skating. But then, Weir came along to fuse them into…..I’m not sure what.
Weir plans to wear a hat, of course. The hat is the thing. But Weir, being Weir, hints that he’ll wear a designer piece suggesting Pegasus, the winged horse. On Wednesday night, he tweeted, as he was packing for the trip: “One hoof out the door” and with it he showed a teaser of his design: it will involve a white horse’s hoof bedazzled with sequins. Feathers are involved. Not exactly sure how that will look on his head. Is he spoofing? We’ll see.
And we’re not quite sure what the Weir-Lipinski express expects to see when they hit Churchill on May 3. They say they are not going to be catty, although they are aware there is a huge audience for “bitchy fashion reporting.”
“I’m sure we will have some very outspoken moments,” Lipinski says. But nasty? Not so much. “We appreciate the artwork and the hours and the money that it cost for these designers to put out their creations every year,” Weir says. “We appreciate what they are trying to do and if something is a little bit off, then it’s a little bit off.
“I mean, I have made so many mistakes in my life, I’m not above critiquing somebody and saying what I would like to have seen better. But I’m also totally aware that I look like a loon most of the time.”
Do you get the impression that Lipinski and Weir expect to see the fashionista sort of hat? The wide sweeping brims with a few roses or feathers sweeping majestically around? The utterly artistic beautiful creations? (The Derby is the Run for the Roses, after all). Weir mentioned that the gentlemen will “wear a straw hat or fedora.” Without a doubt, the figure skating types will see these.
Weir is not a first-timer at the Derby. He came in May of 2010, after the Vancouver Olympics, and there is a photo of him out there somewhere, showing his outrageous chic: big, wide-brimmed black hat with wild black-and-white-and grey tweed jacket and not-so-outrageous black pants and grey shirt and tie. Definitely a statement, but tame by Derby standards, really.
Well, Johnny and Tara, I have news for you. Look away from the gold-encrusted dining rooms. Look into the infield, the backstage, that apron where people really can’t even see the race. You might see the man with the cheesehead hat, adorned with a couple of plastic race horses (jockeys aboard) running around the top over a bed of lilies.
Yup, there is a man wearing a straw fedora, but he might have four roses around the brim, interspersed with what looks like four finish-line posts, with flags, all topped off by a full-size, old fashioned bellows camera, with of course, a long-stemmed rose on top of that. Weir doesn’t really know what excess is, until he goes to a Derby.
And my personal favourite: the orange baseball cap, with a horse’s hind end sticking out over the brim. I could go on.
But this is Johnny and Tara’s show.
Strangely enough, Weir advises women to wear sensible shoes, if they have to walk across the grass to the winner’s circle. He’s seen too many a female sucked into the turf, hobbled by stilettos. But at Weir’s footwear suggestion, Lipinski screams: “Absolutely not!” until Weir promises to carry her “in my papoose” over the mud. He calls her his “little blond munchkin.” She’s enjoying it all.
But are they up to snuff on any of these 20 steeds from across the country? They may not know it, but this year’s Derby is a handicapping nightmare and they are stepping into this mire. “I have a few girlfriends coming over and we are going to do some homework, and hope to possibly bet a little bit,” Lipinski says. “I definitely want to be up to speed.” She’ll have some work ahead of her to figure this one out.
Weir is going on a tip. Somebody has told him that an elegant coppery-coated steed called Danza has the goods. “That’s where my loyalty lies a little bit,” he said. “I don’t know why. I just feel it.” That tactic will work as well as anything.
But really, are Weir and Lipinski the odd ones at this event? Maybe not. “I think Tara and I are based very much in reality,” Weir says. “”While some of our clothing and our confections [speak for yourself, Johnny] can lead you to think otherwise, we are very real down-to-earth people.”
The trick on Derby day is to wear something comfortable, Weir says. He’s learned his lesson. Last time, in 2010, it threatened to be cold and wet. Weir’s tweed caused him to “sweat through my foundation.
“It was not a good scene. I was not cute” he sighs.
Well, it’s supposed to be chilly this time, too. “I’ll bring a sensible shawl,” he replies, but he doesn’t believe it.
His mother will try to suggest he wear a linen pant, but Weir hates linen. “It wrinkles so terribly that by the end of the day, your butt looks like a walnut,” he says.
This is going to be one fun Kentucky Derby show.