This year, the Kentucky Derby will run on schedule. That's news, of course, because last year was a very different story: it was delayed last year, so instead, we saw the return of the Kentucky Turtle Derby. Yes, in 2020, we raced turtles instead of horses on the first Saturday in May. Here in 2021, though, the turtles are back, and with a new mascot: Super Bowl champion and former New York Giants player Victor Cruz.
The Turtle Derby, sponsored by Old Forester, whose mint julep is the derby's official drink, is a complete flip on what is widely known as the "fastest two minutes in sports." Instead, in the "slowest two minutes in sports," eight turtles are sent to the races to see who can reach the finish line first.
The Turtle Derby, which originated in 1945 after the Kentucky Derby was postponed because of World War II, was revived last year after the 2020 "Run for the Roses" was rescheduled because of the pandemic. Airing May 1 at 4 p.m. EDT, the Turtle Derby will be available to view on Old Forester's YouTube channel.
We chatted with Cruz to get a little more insight into how a sports legend became a mascot for turtle racing, life during the pandemic and, of course, bourbon.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Gear Patrol: So, what does a Super Bowl champion know about racing turtles?
Victor Cruz: Not much! I had to do a lot of research on this and make sure I'm understanding, obviously, This just being the second annual Old Forester Kentucky Turtle Derby, which is airing May 1 at 4 p.m. ET on Old Forester's YouTube channel, but I'm excited — it's fun. When I started to learn more about it and the names of these turtles and how hysterical they are and how it's deemed the "slowest two minutes in sports," I was excited to see what this was all about. The history of the whole Turtle Derby is pretty, pretty crazy, and I'm actually kind of happy it's happening again.
GP: Too bad the turtles can't do a dance once they reach the finish line.
VC: [Laughs] Exactly, exactly.
GP: So what does it mean that you're the mascot? Are you putting on a costume or anything?
VC: [Laughs] No I was just joking with somebody that I should have had a turtleshell book bag or something. That would have been cool, but no me being the mascot is just to be the face behind the race and to bring more eyes to it, while having some fun with it in the meantime.
GP: Were you always a bourbon fan?
VC: Always was ever since, I was old enough to drink. I would always try it; I was always interested in it; and I would always get my Old Fashioneds done with bourbon. So when this partnership came about, it was like okay, you know this is kind of all coming together, and what better brand to partner with than Old Forester?
GP: Since Old Forester's mint julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, what's Victor Cruz's official drink of the derby?
VC: Old Forster, neat, no ice like a gentleman. That's the way I like my bourbon.
GP: How do you think your drinking habits have changed since you retired from the NFL?
VC: Oh man, I can't say how it's really changed, but I think it's changed in terms of me just having the time to just try different things like liquors and drinks.
GP: How've you been holding up during the pandemic?
VC: So far so good. It kind of feels like we're coming out the other end of it, so to speak. Initially, it was kind of interesting. I was with my daughter, trying to get her through virtual school obviously and, and that's not always easy. Especially in the beginning, she was just like, "Yeah, I know I'm at school, but I'm home so I want to relax and be comfortable and not have to be as attentive to school as I want to be." But we changed that and then over time it got better. I just recently put her back into school with all of her classmates, and I can see a substantial difference in her morale. and when she comes home she's excited and happy to be around those kids and happy to be around her friends again and have that normal interaction. So it's been fun but it's definitely had its ups and downs for sure.
GP: Besides being the Turtle Derby mascot, what else is new with you?
VC: I'm here in Los Angeles and doing some work with the news. I'm filling in on [E!'s talk show] Daily Pop and doing their broadcast stuff, which is cool. I'm staying involved in the philanthropy space doing things with my foundation, the Victor Cruz Foundation. And then I've been getting into some acting stuff. I've been taking some acting classes last year, and I booked a gig on Broadway that I can't really talk about, but COVID set that back a bit, but we'll see. We'll see what happens, we'll see what I come across, but just trying to dip my toes into everything.