May 2, 2006

Get me rewrite: Some ‘celebs’ soak up Derby largess like a sponge

I’ve pored over the list of celebrities — and I use that term loosely — who will attend this year’s Derby and, frankly, I’m underwhelmed. Sorry, folks, but it’s definitely the B list. It’s heavy on has-beens, wannabes and others who dwell on Hollywood’s fringe. Mostly, it’s the same freeloaders who show up every year to suck up our hospitality but leave without buying so much as a country-ham sandwich, much less a race horse.I don’t count Muhammad Ali as a celebrity because he’s a homeboy. Likewise, I eliminate all current or former jockeys. Most have ridden here so often that they should pay property taxes. And I’m not going to acknowledge any other professional athlete unless he or she has actually won something important. (Yes, Peyton Manning, I’m talking about you.)Looking at the list, I see what appears to be the entire cast of “Outback Jack” and “The Apprentice.” Get the hook. Who cares? As a matter of personal taste, I refuse to count any rapper as a singer, much less a celebrity, because rap is not music. Don’t argue with me about this. Age has its privileges.I mean, how can you seriously admire anybody who goes by the name of Bow Wow? Puh-leeze. I wouldn’t go across the street to see this guy, much less line up on the street outside the Barnstable-Brown party to get a glimpse of him.You also can have all the non-entities who go by a single name. That’s an honor that only the true icons deserve. I’m thinking of Elvis, Magic, Madonna, Cher. The crème de la crème. But don’t give me Ashanti, Ciara, Natalie, Delilah or Jewel.Now, lest you think me little more than a grumpy old man, I will grant you that a few of our impending guests are worthy of our hero worship. But it’s a very short list that includes Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Dennis Hopper, Smokey Robinson, George Strait, Travis Tritt and Serena Williams.I’ll even throw in ZZ Top, Stone Phillips, Lee Greenwood and Tom Brady.But that’s it. And even that’s a stretch. I mean, if the Derby really were the must-attend event we like to think it is, we’d be seeing Randy, Paula and Simon. Or at least one of the “Desperate Housewives” stars. Or Nicole Kidman, who’s now hanging out with her boyfriend in Nashville.Oprah (now there’s somebody who has earned single-name status) will be conspicuous by her absence. So will Tom Cruise, whose mother is a Louisville native and whose grandfather is buried here, and George Clooney, whose parents still live in Augusta.Instead, we’re getting a bunch of pseudo-celebs. I’ll give you a year’s subscription to LEO if you can identify the following without looking them up on the Internet: Jermaine Dupri, Gilbert Gottfried, Bob Guiney, Bonnie-Jill Laftin, Henry Simmons, Eddie Montgomery and Billy Lopa.I thought so. Yet they’re listed as celebrities by our resident star-gazer and gossip columnist, Angie Fenton of The Courier-Journal, whom I actually think is a bigger celebrity than, oh, Gabrielle Union, whoever she is.Personally, I think it’s time to stop the gravy train and dump the freeloaders. The Derby is in dire need of a major celebrity upgrade as much as Kentucky’s horse industry needs an influx of new investors. So I have an idea.Beginning with this year, every “celebrity,” even the unknown ones, will be issued credentials that are good for three years. During that period, the holder of the credentials can come to the Derby and allow himself or herself to be admired, photographed, pampered and entertained to the max.At the end of that time, however, the “celebrity” either must invest in a Kentucky-bred thoroughbred or surrender credentials for five years. If they love our horses and hospitality so much, they should buy a piece of the action, in keeping with the Derby tradition established by such luminaries as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Jack Klugman, who not only attended the Derby but actually owned horses.The celebrity list includes 15 former or current NFL players, some of whom you’ve even heard of. Each of them makes a zillion dollars a year. If they formed a stable, they could become a dominant force at the Keeneland sales. I’m sure I could get D. Wayne Lukas or Bob Baffert to be their trainer.Such a rule would at least rid us of a lot of the B-list spongers. We need to upgrade by next year, and I’m perfectly willing to do my part. Anybody have Charlize Theron’s phone number? Contact the writer at billyr@leoweekly.com