Champion Talks More Than Weather at They’re Off

Churchill Downs' Kevin Flannery was among those speakers joking about the weather

I got lucky. At today’s They’re Off Luncheon at the Galt House, I got to sit next to Jack Guthrie, the former Derby Festival president who is a walking historian for the three-week Festival.

During lunch, Guthrie told me how he got those ugly coat tradition started. Members of the Festival Board wear these tan and black sport coats, with a Pegasus on them, and have since the early 1970s, when Guthrie ran the event. They used to be even more hideous, when they were green.

And then there was a story about how he started the Pegasus Pin tradition, borrowing from an idea at a Minneapolis event. It was pretty fascinating stuff to hear while a procession of speakers (Churchill president Kevin Flannery, Gov. Beshear, Mayor Fischer, KDF CEO Mike Berry) prattled on with jokes about the weather directed at Sam Champion.

Oh, yeah, the main attraction. Champion, the weatherman for ABC’s Good Morning America, hails from Paducah, and earned his TV chops at stations there and in Lexington. He was energetic and entertaining, telling stories about hanging from a helicopter, being buried in a snow avalanche and chatting up Diane Sawyer at the home office.

He repeatedly mentioned how attractive his female producer is, pointing her out in the crowd. But one shortcoming of the event — other than it always being too dark, was that there were no cameras to show what she looked like. About 1,800 people were there at the They’re Off Luncheon, the annual start of the three-week Derby Festival.

Champion also talked of how proud he is of his home state, which you might have expected. He picked up some jockey silks from Flannery, became a Kentucky Colonel thanks to Beshear, and was presented a citizenship certificate by Fischer.

Fischer announced that next year, the city will be focused on being compassionate and will launch a week of service.

Doug Proffitt of WHAS-TV was the emcee.