As part of GayTravel.com's continuing coverage of the pageantry and festive atmosphere surrounding horse racing otherwise known as the Sport of Kings (and Queens!), we continue to marvel at the blend of fashion, passion, and celebrity attendance at horse racing events held throughout the United States and across the world.
When the GayTravel Team ran into Carson Kressley at the 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships in November (held in Louisville, KY, but moving to Los Angeles’ historic Santa Anita racetrack in November 2019), one of the first things he said was: “we need more gays at the racetrack!”
GayTravel.com’s Ruben Davies followed up with the author, TV host and contestant, movie star, beauty pageant judge, designer, Breeders' Cup Ambassador, horse owner, world-class equestrian, Jeopardy contestant, and Emmy Award winner for an interesting chat about his personal story, his favorite events, and destinations, where he sees himself within the LGBTQ community, and the many connections and similarities the community has with the horseracing world.
I know our readers are pretty well aware of you and all of your work, but would you mind giving us brief overview of how you got into this crazy world of show business?
I always thought I had a face for radio, so I never even dreamed of being on television. But, I’ve always had a career in the design world and I worked for many years for Ralph Lauren, eventually as a creative director for a lot of their advertising campaigns you may have seen. If it involved a cute male model, a snowflake sweater and a samoyed puppy, I was probably behind it! During that time, one of my co-workers heard about a show called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” They were having tryouts, and I sent a headshot which was really just a picture of me with said samoyed puppy. They said come down and we’ll meet you…. and they did. They liked me, and we made a pilot in 2002, and the show was greenlit in 2003. That was 15 years ago, and I’ve been doing TV ever since. And, it just...I guess I’m an accidental TV personality, and it’s a wonderful job! I feel like I haven’t worked in 15 years!
How did you get into the horse racing world?
I am from a horsing family so-to-speak, and my grandparents were in the horse industry (my parents were not so interested). My sister and I had been competing with American Saddlebred show horses since we were kids, and we’ve always been around horses. Horse racing is a little bit different from the competitive equestrian circuit, but it’s still centered around, first and foremost the horse, and their incredible athleticism. The other part of that world that is so enticing and so similar is that it’s a wonderful social environment. It is like-minded people who are enjoying great food, a beautiful location, like i said before, these amazing horses, and also getting dressed up, the parties, all part of that world that’s so enticing to me. It’s something I’ve always been around, and I’ve always loved it, and I’ve gotten more involved the last several years as an ambassador for the Breeders’ Cup. Which brings up another great point….that you can travel to so many fantastic locations for horse racing! The Breeders’ Cup for example has been in Del Mar California, Santa Anita, it’s been at Keeneland - which I think is the most beautiful track in the country - and then of course the iconic Churchill Downs, so you get to see so many different places and meet so many different types of people...it’s like a “circuit party,” but we keep our shirts on!
What would you say your top 3 horse racing travel destinations are?
If you’re really fabulous and global, you must go to the Melbourne Cup in Melbourne Australia. It’s always the first week in November every year, and it’s springtime there, and the track and the whole racecourse is lined with roses that they time to bloom exactly for race week. EVERYBODY in Australia is into it. The country basically shuts down, and if you’re not at the track at Flemington you’re watching on television. They literally shut down offices, schools and entire towns take a break and watch the races. That’s a really fun one! I’ve been many times. Of course, I think Santa Anita is a great one because there is just so much history. It’s where old Hollywood would come to the races. So you see pictures of people like Bing Crosby, Lucy and Dezi Arnez….. It’s a beautiful setting, just outside of Los Angeles, and it’s set against a really dramatic mountain backdrop. The weather is always perfection, it’s a nice vibe… and it’s a really beautiful course. Then you have great places like Pasadena and San Marino to stay, eat and shop. You would think I would say the Kentucky Derby, which is wonderful… it is the Granddaddy of them all, but for a little bit more of an insider experience, I like to recommend Keeneland which is in Lexington, Kentucky. And that really feels like a European track. It’s very understated. It’s very genteel. It’s very southern and --- the Kentucky Derby is wonderful, and that’s what everybody THINKS is all about horse racing in Kentucky, but the insiders really go to Keeneland.
When you met our CEO briefly at this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, you said, “We need more gays at the racetrack!”
Well, I’m sure they’re there!!! Years ago there was even a special day that was just so fabulous, and I think it was one of the Louisville LGBT groups that organized it. And I would love for that to happen again!! I think racing is for everybody, but I think our community would particularly enjoy it because there is so much flair and there is so much pageantry and it is really fun….
(Phone-line drops out mid-conversation. We re-connect and barely miss a beat)!
...I think our community especially loves fun and festivity, and we do things with great flair and I think that’s what makes us so wonderful. I think there’s a lot of that sensibility at the races, people get dressed up, they enjoy great food they have some libations, they enjoy a festive community and I think that’s something we could do as part of our own community and enjoy that experience together. I would highly encourage different LGBT groups across the country to maybe organize a day at the track.
What makes the Breeders’ Cup World Championships so special?
The Breeders Cup is really the granddaddy of them all, and I’ve been to all of them. There's Pegasus, which is the highest paying race in the world, and there's the exotic Dubai races where they actually don’t have betting, which I’m just like, “What’s the point?” And then there’s obviously the Kentucky Derby. But... the Breeders’ Cup is really the world championships. It’s kind of like the Super Bowl of horse racing. Basically, if you have a fantastic horse, you come to the Breeders’ Cup and it’s not limited like the Derby is just for 3 year olds. It really is the best horses that have been winning all year long. They come to the Breeders’ Cup for the ultimate showdown, and horses come from all over the world. It is truly a global event. I love that it’s not always held at the same location. It's been rotating from Keeneland to Churchill Downs to Santa Anita to Del Mar… and you really get a taste of the greatest tracks in America.
Editor’s Note: The Pegasus World Cup is Jan. 26th, 2019 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida. The 2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be held Nov. 1 - 2 at Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles. The Breeders’ Cup will be held in Lexington, KY at historic Keeneland racetrack in 2020, and moves to Del Mar racetrack in San Diego in 2021.
Tell us about some of the people one might encounter at the races?
Certainly the Kentucky Derby is star studded, and you get people who want to experience the phenomenon of the Derby, and the Derby is much more than just racing. It’s parties, it’s red carpets, it’s really something that takes over Louisville for the entire week. That’s fun, and you will see everybody under the sun… from Kid Rock to Bon Jovi, you’ll see a lot of current celebs. For the Breeders’ Cup you get more diehard racing fans from the celebrity worlds. You’ll see people like Bobby Flay and myself, Elizabeth Banks (who I adore!), she’s so funny and so talented. And I always go to Breeders Cup with Bo Derrick who’s so chic and a real horse lover. So you're going to see a wide range of people from sports figures to singers, to movie stars.
I think horse racing people…there’s such a community. Everybody has such camaraderie at the track. Last year I met people from Godolphin - one of the Sheiks from Qatar - that’s somebody I would normally never meet. And of course, some of the farm owners, and to get invited to come see some of the famous horses back at the farm. All kinds of people. It’s all different walks of life. This year Toby Keith was at the Breeders’ Cup so that was fun. And some sports figures that I normally wouldn’t be rubbing elbows with, were like, “Hey Carson welcome back!” You really will meet all kinds of people - famous and not famous - and all very, very interesting.
Moving away from horse racing for a moment. Do you consider yourself to be a role model for the LGBTQ community? And if yes, how does that make you feel, and what type of responsibilities do you feel come along with that?
Oh gosh I hope I’m not!! Ya know, throughout my career and my personal life I’ve just tried to live very honestly and be out and open. I think there’s great power in being out because when you’re out, other people know you and they say, “He looks like a great guy. Why shouldn’t he able to get married, or why shouldn't he be able to adopt kids, or why shouldn’t he have the same rights that I have?” So, it’s just very powerful when you’re out because you are a person and not just four letters, “L-G-B-T,” and that makes people care more about your individual rights. When they know you, they care about you and your happiness, and you being treated fairly. It’s pretty simple. That’s just how I do it. I don’t know if I’m a role model. I’m just being myself and hopefully doing my community proud.
Of all the shows you’ve been on and all the events you’ve participated in, what are the one or two most fun or memorable that you’ve been a part of?
Oh gosh!! I’ve done so many fun things. I’ve done LGBT Mardi Gras in Sydney, Australia which was unbelievable! I got to present at the CMT awards one year with Dolly Parton. That was so fun! I’ve always loved her! Recently, I rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange which is just such an iconic NY thing. I’ve lived here (NY) for 25 years, and I never imagined I’d be doing that. Every day there’s something kind of fun and exciting that I never dreamed of and….it’s just been a very fun ride!
What’s next on the horizon for Carson Kressley?
Maybe I could be America’s Next Top Model!!?? I don’t know….I love show business because it’s different everyday, and I think I’ve been fairly successful because I’m very very open to doing whatever, and I don’t really put a lot of limitations on it. If it sounds fun, if it sounds interesting, I’m game to give it a try.
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Article Notes and References:
Pegasus World Cup - https://www.pegasusworldcup.com
Breeders’ Cup - http://www.breederscup.com
Melbourne Cup - https://www.flemington.com.au/melbournecupcarnival
Keeneland Racecourse - http://keeneland.com
Santa Anita Racetrack - http://www.santaanita.com
Carson’s Latest TV Show, “Get A Room” - http://www.bravotv.com/people/carson-kressley
LGBT Mardi Gras (Sydney, Australia) - http://www.mardigras.org.au
Dubai World Cup - http://www.dubaiworldcup.com
*this interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarityView More Arts and Culture ArticlesView More From The News Room ArticlesView More Interviews Articles