updated 05/06/2007 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/07/2007 AT 6:15 AM ET
Proving to be one of the most sought-after celebrities at this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, Larry Birkhead beamed when talking about his nearly 8-month-old daughter, Dannielynn.
“The nursery is all pink,” Birkhead, 34, told PEOPLE of the baby’s room. (Pink was the favorite color of Dannielynn’s mom, the late Anna Nicole Smith.)
The baby also is already developing distinctive tastes, according to her father. “She loves Disney characters and zoo characters,” says Birkhead.
As for the nursery’s decor, “I did it all myself,” he says.
Being a single parent, especially one living out of a suitcase, he says, is “crazy. I try to get a lot of rest and relaxation, but being a new dad, it’s kinda tough.”
What comes first? “I change a lot of diapers. [There’s] a lot of bottles and outfits. I’ve been spit on, scratched, kicked, punched, and it’s all good, because,” he says, “it feels good to be home and share the excitement with family and friends and everybody that’s been so kind to me and supportive.”
Of Kentucky, he says, “There’s a lot of love outside these gates. I wasn’t even aware that anybody even knows who I am, but apparently some people watch the news!”
Birkhead, who met Smith in 2004 at the pre-Derby Barnstable Brown party, attended this year’s bash with his sister, Judy Birkhead. He was also seen at Saturday’s big race itself with his Friday night hosts, Priscilla Barnstable and Patricia Barnstable Brown.
At their party, which is a fundraiser for diabetes research (Brown’s husband, David, died of the disease in 2003), Birkhead, when asked how it felt to return, replied, “It’s a great charity, a great event, a great time. Although I don’t really have energy … I wanted to make a special point to be here, not only to give support to charity but also to the memories I have here that I share with Anna Nicole and our first encounter and … ”
And, with that, he started to cry.
Reporting by ANGELA KOENIG and LESLEY MESSER