LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The kick-off of the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Derby Festival are underway. NBC Sportscaster Mike Tirico came to town for this year's "They're Off " luncheon.
On Friday afternoon, Tirico entertained a big crowd at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville for the traditional start of the two-week festival. The veteran broadcaster will be back to take the country through every moment of Kentucky Derby 144.
From Kentucky's Governor to Louisville's Mayor and members of Congress to Miss Kentucky, it was a Who's Who of the Bluegrass, and everyone seemed excited to be part of it.
The excitement of the Kentucky Derby was not something that was lost on veteran NBC broadcaster Mike Tirico.
"Very often if you ask people 'What's one horse race?', they'll say it's the Kentucky Derby," Tirico said.
After leading the network's Olympic Coverage, Tirico told a crowd of about 1,5000 people at the annual "They're Off!" Luncheon, hosted by WAVE 3 News Kent Taylor, that just like the Olympics, the Run for the Roses has a special place in sports.
Tirico said what he's come to love about the Derby are the waves of emotion and drama surrounded by 170,000 plus fans from all backgrounds..
"That's the joy of what Derby Day is," Tirico said. "Everybody feels like they can be a part of it."
That included Mayor Greg Fischer, who was easy to see at the luncheon sporting this year's bright pink Derby Festival Jacket.
"It's a fabulous new jacket this year, don't you think?" Fischer laughed and said of the celebration. "We are kicking-off Derby Festival week, and it's fabulous."
Tirico thought the multiple gifts of Kentucky bourbon from officials sitting at the head table were pretty fabulous, too. And Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery added Jockey's Silks to the gift list.
"My plan was for him [Tirico] to be the most festively attired person here, but Mike Berry [Kentucky Derby Festival CEO] ruined that for me with these new jackets," Flanery told the crowd.
Flanery said of Derby time: "For me, it's really about a celebration of this town, because this luncheon is about all the people who come out to make the Derby a reality." He continued: "The volunteers, everybody working so hard in the city...so for us, the game is on."
Tirico gained quite a few local fans sharing his new love of Louisville and all its sports history.
Tirico joined a list of names including Terry Bradshaw, Magic Johnson, Julius Erving and Howard Cosell by being a part of the annual luncheon.