At the past two Belmont Stakes, NBC's Kenny Rice has conducted a pair of the most memorable television interviews in modern Thoroughbred racing history.
After California Chrome failed to win the 2014 Belmont — and thus the Triple Crown — it fell to longtime Lexington resident Rice to interview one of Chrome's disappointed owners, Steve Coburn.
In a sore-loser rant, Coburn decried the fact that new horses were allowed to run in Triple Crown races against competitors, like California Chrome, who ran in all three.
"I had no idea where this interview was going," said Rice. "But as it started in that direction, I was going to go all the way with it to make sure we were clear about what he was saying — that he was upset that fresh horses kept coming into the Triple Crown races."
This June, Rice, 59, found himself with a very different task. His job was to interview Bob Baffert, the trainer whose American Pharoah is the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont since 1978.
In the seconds after Baffert became the trainer that ended the 37-year Triple Crown drought, Rice thought back to a conversation he'd had with the Arizona native before the 2015 Kentucky Derby.
"He's lost his parents in the past few years," Rice said of Baffert. "He had a special relationship with them. ... The phone calls he would make to his mom and dad, or they would call him after a big race. So that emotional part, so I asked him about that after the (Belmont)."
Baffert choked up.
"I think to me that was what humanized the whole sport for people watching," Rice says. " ... I think that's why NBC has good ratings for the Triple Crown is (that we) tell the stories."
When the Breeders' Cup races run at Keeneland for the first time ever Friday and Saturday, Rice will have plenty of emotion of his own.
A graduate of Allen Central High School in Floyd County, Rice was a University of Kentucky student in 1979 when a trip to Keeneland opened his eyes to the appeal of Thoroughbred horse racing. On a whim, Rice says some of his friends at UK decided to attend the Blue Grass Stakes.
"You kind of got a feel that it was a pretty cool place," Rice said of Keeneland. "Kind of like you walk into Fenway (Park) or go into Wrigley (Field). You go, 'Wow, this is something that is a little different, there's been some history here.' There's a vibe you're not always able to describe right away, but you get a feel for it, and I did."
During the 19 years (1980-99) he spent as a local sports anchor at Lexington's WTVQ, Rice's coverage of Keeneland helped open doors to national opportunities. After he submitted a freelance story on a yearling sold for a record price at Keeneland, ESPN used it. It led to even more work for Rice covering horse racing for ESPN.
That was how NBC was familiar with Rice when it hired him to be part of its coverage of the 1999 Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream Park.
While Rice has since branched out to cover mixed martial arts and other non-traditional sports, he has been part of NBC's horse racing coverage ever since.
He says seeing horse racing's season-ending championships at his hometown track will be a career highlight.
"Keeneland, they never do anything halfway," Rice said. "So you know it will be a good show that they put on."
On the down side, it only seems every person Rice has ever met has hit him up for tickets to see American Pharoah try to become the first Triple Crown winner to also claim a Breeders' Cup Classic.
"You discover friends you didn't know you had or people from high school you had forgotten about," Rice said with a laugh. "And my answer is simple: I don't have any (tickets). Because I don't have any."