Whenever I'm in a situation where the soul-crushing exercise of producing three hidden talents is suggested, I always begin with "speaking for people" (I also use it for "name three adjectives that describe yourself," but that one takes more effort to clear). And it's not one of those automatically produced, half-assed answers like "I'm double-jointed" or "my dog once killed a guy," this is a talent that I genuinely own, and it comes complete with the added bonus of being something that I thoroughly enjoy doing.
With all that said, you like Kenny Mayne. I know this because everybody likes Kenny Mayne. He's the Ferris Bueller of modern sports media. People who love ESPN like Kenny Mayne, people who hate ESPN like Kenny Mayne, people who watched Beyond the Glory one time with the sound off like Kenny Mayne, etc.
Mayne owns a special place in the hearts of Louisvillians because around this time every year, he and the tandem of the unfortunately named Randy Moss and the perpetually intoxicated Hank Goldberg (the post position draw is ALWAYS a can't miss affair because of his multiple "oh my God, did you hear that?" moments) descend on the city for the world wide leader's four days of Kentucky Derby coverage. I never could have imagined him spearheading ESPN's horse racing team when he first burst onto the scene in the early '90s, but Mayne does a good job of relaying the necessary information while still finding moments to import his trademark dry humor. He plays extremely well off of both the straightforward Moss and the unintentionally hilarious Goldberg.
He's in town this year for the first time as a published author, as his debut book, An Incomplete & Inaccurate History of Sport, hit stores on April 22.
Mayne fought through an epic battle of (possible) food poisoning to talk Derby, SportsCenter commercials, and his book with us (me) Tuesday night.
Card Chronicle: Your book is officially in stores, so right off the bat I'm going to give you the chance woo literally a dozen potential buyers by telling them why they should purchase An Incomplete & Inaccurate History of Sport.
Kenny Mayne: Well, I think it's mandatory reading for anyone who can read. It's got tall tales, life tales, furry tails, all sorts of tales.
I read somewhere where someone wrote "if you love Kenny Mayne, you'll love the book, but if you don't love Kenny Mayne, you won't love the book," and I think that's probably true. I like to think that people generally like what I do on television, so that probably means a lot of people will like the book.
I'm not bragging.
CC: You're a native of Washington state who played college football, so how did you ever get into horse racing?
KM: I got into horse racing when I was eight and my Uncle Gordy - who just turned 80 and I plan on seeing this weekend if I'm feeling all right - started taking me to Longacres Racetrack (in Seattle). I just automatically had a love for it, and not just the gambling, I mean I like to bet, but I also like watching races on TV.
I feel like it's just one of those that if you don't get, you don't get, but if you do, you just do. Like, there are people out there who love field hockey and lacrosse, and that's just something I can't get. But horse racing and football have always been two things that I've loved.
CC: I don't know if it's too early in the week for you to say, but who's your horse for Saturday?
KM: Well, you asked me the question before the draw, but I have to say Big Brown. I know it's easy to pick the favorite - although I guess it's probably smarter not to pick the favorite - and I know he's got history working against him, but he looks to me like the only superstar of the bunch. He's on the only horse in the field you look at that makes you say "wow." The way he handled the field in Florida, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He's a very, very talented horse.
Can you believe his trainer (Rick Dutrow Jr)?
CC: Uh, he's a bit eccentric.
KM: I've never heard a trainer talk so confidently about a horse, or be so open about how much he's going to bet.
But that horse is very talented. One horse I really liked was War Pass, but obviously that didn't pan out. But Big Brown will be my win bet, and I'll also probably play him at the two and the three in my trifectas. I never win the Derby.
CC: Ninety-three years.
KM: I know, I know, but that horse is a star.
CC: A friend and I have been having a pretty heated debate all day, and I need your expert opinion. Are you less of a man if you make your Derby pick after the post positions have been drawn and Mike Battaglia sets his opening odds on Wednesday afternoon?
KM: No offense to Mike Battaglia, but after the post positions come out you should be setting your own odds. But no, I don't think there's anything wrong with picking a horse after the post draw. (Ed. Note: Except there totally is.) If a horse draws post 20- of course we overanalyze the post positions so much. We can talk for days about the gates, and then the race starts and one horse takes out three others in the first second.
Although, I think with Big Brown, the post doesn't matter. He could start in one or 20, and I still think he'd be able to get to the front.
CC: Do you have a favorite all-time Derby horse or moment?
Probably my first Derby. It was Silver Charm - who I actually bet on, but that's not the reason it's my favorite - in 1997.
That was my first time ever seeing the Derby in person, but I watched it every year on TV from the age of seven or eight. The first Saturday in May has always been special to me. Every year, I always talked about how cool it would be to go there and see the race in person. And now every year I go - I know this is such a cliché - but every year I go, I can't believe I'm getting paid to do this, I can't believe that this is my job.
For me, honestly, I like the Derby more than the Super Bowl. There's just something magical about it. I love the Breeder's Cup too. The Breeder's Cup and the Triple Crown races are tied for me. But the Derby is special. There's just so much electricity.
And I love getting out there at the beginning of the week, something I unfortunately wasn't able to do this year. There's always stuff going on and there's new news every day, and it all keeps building until Derby Day.
The Derby is one of those things that, until you live it, just can't be described in words.
CC: Here's a question I'm sure you've heard before. What's your favorite SportsCenter commercial, either featuring you or not featuring you.
KM: All right, well I'm going to be selfish. It's a tie between the one where Dikembe Mutombo and I lie on the ground and stare at clouds, and the Big Buddy camp one where Stuart Scott and I are playing basketball and yelling at the kids. It was great, pretty much the whole thing was ad-libbed. At the time, we'd been arguing for the right to be more liberal and do more of our own thing, so they basically said, "here, be mean to these kids." So the commercial was just Stuart and I saying things that we though of on the fly. (Ed. Note: It took every inch of restraint I can lay claim to, to not bust out a "what are you doing shooting? pass the ball! pass the ball!" or a "your parents signed the permission slip, get up man.")
CC: All right, last question. You've been here enough to form a pretty solid opinion, so what's your overall impression of Louisville?
KM: I like it. I've actually grown to like it a lot more recently. When I first started coming, I didn't know much about it. I would just go to the track and then back to the hotel, and that was it. But now I'm getting out, I've found a little cafe, a little coffee shop nearby. I loved the Muhammad Ali Museum. It's a fun city, and the people are all really friendly. I've made some good friends here, and I'm always anxious to come back. I've got no complaints, really.
Thanks again to Kenny for gracing us all with his "we're not worthy" (because that reference is still relevant) presence. For those interested, he'll be doing a book signing Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Carmichael's Bookstore on Frankfort Ave.
And if you're a potential buyer still on the fence, here's one final piece of persuasion: