FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
NBC SPORTS GROUP’S BREEDERS’ CUP CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
Dan Masonson: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to our 2013 Breeders’ Cup conference call. Beginning Friday, NBC Sports Group will present all 14 Breeders’ Cup race on 9-1/2 hours of coverage over two days, culminating with a live prime time coverage of the 30th Breeders’ Cup classic at 8:00 pm Eastern on Saturday night on NBC.
We’re pleased to be joined on today’s call by Tom Hammond who was part of NBC Sports First team for the first Breeders’ Cup 30 years ago, veteran horseracing analyst, Randy Moss, the Hall of Fame jockey, Jerry Bailey, Larry Collmus, who will call all 14 Breeders’ Cup races for NBC for the first time and coordinating producer, Rob Hyland.
As a note to the media, we will be posting a transcript of today’s call at NBCsportsgrouppressbox.com later today. With that, we’ll get an opening comment from each of our participants and then we’ll take your questions. So with that, I’ll turn it over to NBC Sports coordinating producer, Rob Hyland.
Rob Hyland: Thanks Dan. As you mentioned, 14 races, more than 9-1/2 hours of coverage over two days. We have a very deep team of announcers, 13 in all, 30-plus cameras covering about 100 acres here at the grounds of Santa Anita. We’re really excited to have Billy Bush from Access Hollywood be a part of this year’s coverage as well as E Entertainment’s Cat Sadler.
As Dan mentioned, it is the 30th anniversary of the Breeders’ Cup and back on NBC for the second year after a brief absence. And we’ll be celebrating a number of those moments over the 30 years of the Breeders’ Cup throughout the weekend.
And I’ve said this in the past, but as someone who’s covered seven Olympics, this event is the Olympics of horseracing. You know, the best of the best from around the world of racing are competing at various distances, different age divisions, both on grass and dirt. And there’s really something for everyone. And we’re really excited to showcase this great event. So with that I will turn it over to the rest of the gang.
Tom Hammond: Well, it’s difficult for me to believe it’s been 30 years since that first Breeders’ Cup and how far the Breeders’ Cup has come and how far, you know, I have come. Who would’ve guessed that at the first Breeders’ Cup telecast that I would be casting my lot with NBC for what is now 30 years.
And they came in from LAX toward the hotel yesterday. We passed by Hollywood Park, the scene of that first Breeders’ Cup and the strangest thing, the theme music of the first Breeders’ Cup went through my head as we passed by Hollywood Park which, as most of you know, is soon to be torn down.
So it’s been a great ride. We had the little absence there for a while but so many great moments for the Breeders’ Cup and so many things have changed. As I’ve said before, that first broadcast was kind of a new thing for NBC and I was hired as a, quote, “Racing expert,” and we had so many announcers because the fear was we wouldn’t be able to fill the time, that each race was lasting a couple of minutes.
But we had four hours or whatever it was, to cover the – to be on the air, so as it turned out, as we found that very first Breeders’ Cup, we didn’t have enough time. We would have a great race and you would just have a chance to barely digest what had just happened, and it was time to start on to another great race.
So that was the biggest lesson we learned from that first Breeders’ Cup, is that this is a special event. It takes a lot of analysis and a lot of looking in to what has happened because there are so many great races to – that unfold. And now, of course, we’ve gone up to 14 of them, so advanced in that regard as well, over two days.
So a lot of changes in the 30 years but one thing has remained the same, and that is it is a first class championship event and always has been. Randy, I think you’re next.
Randy Moss: Yes, back in 1994 when all this got started, I was watching Tom on television in the newspaper business in Little Rock, Arkansas. So never could I have guessed that 30 years later I’d be working alongside Tom on the NBC set.
For an analyst like myself and Jerry Bailey, this is a pretty daunting weekend. I mean, we assess – we try to assess over all the details, all the various owners, trainers, jockeys, horses, storylines, pedigrees. When you have one race, like the Kentucky Derby or maybe shows where we have two or three, it’s tough enough.
When you’ve got 14 races over two days, that doesn’t leave us much time to socialize in Southern California over the weekend. Now, one thing that’s particularly interesting for me in this Breeders’ Cup is the fact that we’ve got a record number of horses returning from last year to defend their title in a Breeders’ Cup race.
We’ve got seven who are now coming back. That’s never happened before and in the Breeders’ Cup classic, the grand finale, the richest race in America, not just the defending champion, but last year’s one, two, three, four finishers are all coming back and those horses won’t even be the favorites.
Game on Dude, being the favorite last year, is going to be back again for the classic and he’s definitely the horse to beat, so it’s an exciting time. It’s a challenging time for all of us to prepare for all these races but it’s something we look forward to all year long.
Jerry Bailey: Yes, for me personally, this is a great place to come back to, Santa Anita. It stirs memories of 20 years ago this year when I rode the most improbable of winners in (Arcon), going off at 133 to 1 and I think that encapsulates the theme that almost anything can happen in a Breeders’ Cup event.
There’re so many good horses, and as Randy pointed out, it’s daunting and it’s a mountain of work for us to filter through to bring it to the viewers but being on both sides of the fence as a rider, it presented so many opportunities, you know, for the participants to win.
The races are so deep that they can produce results like (Arcon) and you just never know when the next exciting story is going to be. This year, in particular, I think it’s – at least for me, it kind of focuses me on the human story and that would be Gary Stevens.
Trying to build on his eight Breeders’ Cup wins, his remarkable comeback starting in January right here in Santa Anita, you know, along the way he happed to, by the way, win the Preakness stakes which was remarkable in itself, but he, along with (Mike Smith), are probably the most well mounted riders of all the Breeders’ Cups – or all the Breeders’ Cups jockeys.
I think it’ll be an exciting time for both me and (Mike Smith), the older statesman, if you will. Ninety-eight years young between the two of them and against guys that are 19, 20, 21, but they certainly bring a lot of wisdom and experience and I think look for some exciting results from the (mouths) that they have.
Larry Collmus: Well, when they had the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984, I was fresh out of high school. I remember going to Charlestown Race Track in West Virginia to watch it for the first time and watching Tom Hammond on NBC. And it was a terrific Breeders’ Cup to watch and certainly have been a huge fan of the event throughout the years and since coming aboard here on NBC a few years ago, I was very excited when I found out that the Breeders’ Cup would be coming back to NBC because now I could be a part of that.
Last year, I got a bit of a taste of it by calling two of those races but this year it’s going to be all four teams Breeders’ Cup races and it’s a totally different thing preparation wise than the Triple Crown.
The Kentucky Derby is very daunting because it’s a 20 horse field and you have to get all those names in your head. Well, there are no 20 horse fields here but almost all of the races have at least ten horses in them and there’re 14 races, so you have to get all of these horses in your head and separate them and many of the horses are actually owned by the same people and race with the same silk.
So with that information, you have to be able to process that and separate it all and I’ve been doing that with index cards for the past couple of weeks and trying to get everything prepared and in my head and the different case scenarios and things like that. So it’s something that is very difficult to do but at the same time, I’m extremely excited to be the guy that gets to be able to do it.
Tom, I wanted to have you go back again to Hollywood Park for that first one and as you said, there – right after the Breeders’ Cup is over and the meet starts and that’ll be the last one there, what are your thoughts about coming back to LA for this and seeing Hollywood Park? And what do you remember about that first one that would be kind of funny to laugh at, you know, looking at it and how far it’s come in 30 years?
Tom Hammond: Yes, there is a huge difference … and, you know, it was a magical time, that first Breeders’ Cup in Hollywood Park. (Marge Jefferd) was running the racetrack then and she made sure that there were plenty of celebrities and star power on hand and it was just a fabulous event.
And I remember, as the races unfolded, it seemed like everything that could possibly happen, did happen that day. You had disqualifications. You had objections but no disqualifications. You had longshots. You had favorites. It was like the microcosm of horseracing in itself.
And I was supposed to be finished – I was sort of a backstretch reporter. I was supposed to be finished with my duties by the time the Classic was run and I came around from the backstretch to the front side just to watch the race.
And I was standing there with an antenna sticking up out of my hat that I’d been wearing all day. And as the Classic unfolded and all hell broke loose, (Pat Day), who was the jockey on (Loud) again who was the winner, but there’d been some bumping and there was an objection and a steward inquiry.
And he happened to go up to the telephone and to talk to the stewards and as he came off the telephone he just came to me because he knew me from Kentucky and came to be interviewed. I wasn’t supposed to be working but I ended up interviewing (Pat Day) and things had worked out well all day for me.
At the end of the day, as went off the air, two things happened. John Gaines, who thought up the whole idea of the Breeders’ Cup, came and he gave me a big bear hug because he knew that he had a winner on his hands. It had been a tremendous success.
And the second thing that happened was Michael Weisman, who was the executive producer of NBC Sports, said, “Would you be interested in doing other things for NBC beginning with NFL football?” So that was – needless to say, it’s an afternoon I’ll never forget.
Any thoughts about the horse race, about the track closing and the sadness that goes with that?
Tom Hammond: Yes, it’s a nostalgic thing for me. Times have changed, of course and I did a lot of Laker’s games right next door at The Forum, too. So you know, things evolve, things change, but I am sad to see it go.
It was – it’ll have a special place in my heart for obvious reasons. And I think it throws the, you know, Southern California racing into a bit of a tailspin too because, you know, who will get the racing dates and how it will all sort itself out as far as giving a horseman the opportunity to run at a quality venue.
Tom, just to – kind of – you covered a lot of it but if you can go back to the beginning of the Breeders’ Cup and talk a little bit about how the telecast has evolved, have things changed through the years and how NBC covers the races?
Tom Hammond: Yes, and the main thing, as I said earlier, was that everyone was in a panic as to how we were going to fill all this time with the actual events that lasted a couple of minutes and how will we fill all the other time. And I don’t know how many reporters we had and how many people we had on the telecast but it was very many, as a matter of fact, and because they just didn’t know what was going to happen and I was roaming around the backstretch and some funny things happened.
The – John Henry was not competing that year but had a chance to be Horse of the Year and, nevertheless, depending on who won the classic, and so I was going to do a little, you know, I thought humorous piece and set a television monitor up in front of John Henry’s stall and did a report from there saying, you know, “He’ll be watching the classics because he has a vested interest in who wins it or not,” and just as I was getting ready to go on the air with that report someone, unknown to me, and delivered a dozen roses to John Henry’s stall, so I said, “Hand me those roses.”
So I was holding the roses as I did my report and John Henry happened to reach his head of the stall and start munching the roses which made a pretty nice thing. And then Bill Allen who was the owner of Wild Again – I did a report from his stall – it was actually prerecorded but I said, “Listen I have got a question to ask you here. Here is a horse that you are putting up, I think it was $350,000 or something to make him a supplemental nomination and the horse is 35 to 1. What in the world are you thinking about? Why would you put up that kind of money for a horse that apparently has no chance?” and he said to me, “You know, not only do we think he has a chance. We think he is going to win and we are betting our money at the windows,” and behind me in the stall Wild Again was doing his head up and down as if to say, “Yes, I am going to win.” And as it turns out that he did at long odds.
So just those little things I remember. We didn’t exactly know how to cover horse racing so that was kind of evolving over the years and I think in recent years we have also worked in to some of the pageantry surrounding horse racing, especially in our derby coverage where we have, you know, gone away from just the hard core horse racing fans to try to be inclusive and have people that tune in for the food and the fashion and the celebrities and all of that kind of stuff.
It is, after all, a part of big event horse racing and it is right that we should include that and at this year’s classic in prime time there will be an element of that as well.
So all of that coverage has evolved – we have had a lot of new technical, you know, gadgets that evolved. Basically it still is the telling the stories and as I have said many times, the Olympics has the best stories of course but next to that horse racing is a close second because you have the horses themselves, the owners, the trainers, the jockeys all have interesting stories and for a modern day sportscaster telling the stories is the ultimate and that is what you get to do in horse racing.
So I, you know, I don’t know if that covers what you wanted to know about but those are just some of my memories and thoughts about how it has all evolved over the years.
This is – I don’t know if it is an urban legend but it is kind of a back stretcher industry rumor and I wanted to ask you all about it kind of matter-of-factly. Does the network care about which track the Breeders’ Cup is at and from a technical standpoint Rob, is there anything that makes it easier or better television when the race is taking part – taking place in the daytime?
Rob Hyland: Yes, I will answer both parts of that. The network does not care what track this event takes place at. Obviously, if the event is held at a venue that we have been to before there are obviously efficiencies from, you know, from prior experience.
You know, there are really cool visual qualities of being on the west coast, specifically for the prime time hour, you know, that 5 to 6 o’clock window Pacific time allows us to capture really dramatic visuals of the sun setting against both the track and the neighboring San Gabriel mountains. So from that standpoint it is great being on the west coast but there is no preference from the network’s standpoint.
This question is also for Rob. Last year you guys deployed a gyro stabilized camera in an SUV. How did that work out for you guys and are there plans to use it again?
Rob Hyland: Karen, it worked out very, very well. In fact it will be back again and I wish that we could have it on every major race. Obviously, Santa Anita affords us the opportunity to use it because there is what is called an “inner working track,” where the vehicle can drive. The classic race tracks do not have that inner working track with the exception of the Belmont. But yeah, we plan on utilizing it throughout all 14 races. It is a great shot. It shows the speed and intensity of the race and yeah, we will be using it again this weekend.
And are there any new cameras or production enhancements you guys have planned?
Rob Hyland: You know, we are bringing back a lot of what you see in our Triple Crown coverage – a number of RF cameras – high speed super motion cameras – ultra motion, excuse me – super slow motion. We will have a lot of prerecorded Go Pro footage of jockeys actually riding the various courses throughout the week. So it will be pretty consistent with what we do from a camera complement standpoint and a “toy standpoint,” with our Triple Crown coverage.
Jerry, quick question. Since most people watch football on the weekends how as a jockey, as someone in the industry, how do you convince the casual observer to tune in for the Cup this weekend?
Jerry Bailey: Well I think in this particular weekend the story line with Gary Stevens and Mike Smith is particularly compelling. Gary’s comeback after a seven year absence and if anybody in this world has participated in athletics as they age they know it gets a little more difficult each year you get older and to have a seven year absence and come back and be successful is one thing but to be successful at the level that Gary Stevens has done is quite remarkable. And I think that one of the things that inspired him to do that is the ongoing success of Mike Smith two years his prior, has been able to achieve over the course of the year.
So now you are seeing two guys and in any other sport would have been retired a long time ago, pretty much if not dominating, certainly competing on equal terms with guys at least half their age so I think that is particularly compelling.
And somewhat of a follow-up. When you see someone as Jim Rome involved with misdirection, does that help the sport in any way?
Jerry Bailey: Well I think anytime you have a crossover from one sport to the other no matter which direction it goes, you know, I think it is interesting for the fans. I know I always like, when I sit and watch football, golf, basketball, whatever it be, ‘cause I am a sports fan in general, I like to know the interest of the athletes and other sports that they participate and are at least interested in.
And we have also got Drew Brees with a horse in the same race. You have got Rick Pitino with a horse in one of the other races so, you know, there are a lot of interesting crossovers that you get in thoroughbred racing.
Jerry Bailey: Right. Thank you now.
First I wanted to ask Larry how he prepares to call 14 races, definitely seems like a daunting task. And secondly, if I could, just maybe if all the talents could give maybe a surprise or something that we should be looking for over the next two days at Santa Anita?
Larry Collmus: Well, as far as calling 14 races, yes, that is – it is a lot of races to do. I mean on the normal racing card as a track announcer you usually call 10 races anyway but not of this significance over a two day period of time so obviously you want to be as prepared as you can possibly be and for a race caller what you need to do is to memorize all of the silks that the jockeys will be wearing which is the colors of the owners of the individual horses.
What I have done is put together several index cards of the colored silks of each and every horse and we are actually going to be showing that on the show on Friday and what I do is just constantly, you know, every half an hour or so, just go over all of those names in my head to make sure I know who they are and after you have gone through that process you also want to get familiar with their running styles – who the jockeys are going to be and any of the important story line. So it is not just identification but all those other things that come into play and any other scenario you think that might come up and you just have to be as prepared as you could possibly be 14 times.
Thanks Larry and also if I could just real quick – something to look out for, maybe a surprise or a big time story line that we should be looking for here in Santa Anita?
Randy Moss: This is Randy. As far as surprises go – the biggest surprise for me so far this week is that Larry Collmus keeps each one of his index cards in an individual zip-locked baggie. That has been pretty interesting here.
From a handicapping perspective you always get longshots at the Breeders’ Cup. That is what makes the Breeders’ Cup so attractive to betters around the country. This is something that betters salivate over all year long and I haven’t formulated exactly which horse I think it is going to be but I think the race that sticks out to me that is the most unpredictable – that is the most likely to have a big priced winner is a race called “The Dirt Mile,” which has a big field of horses that I think is completely wide open.
Larry Collmus: I think for me something to look forward to is going to be the inter-workings of the strategy between Gary Stevens and Mike Smith in the Ladies Classic. I mean, I am sorry, in the (Dist. Task) – Royal Delta going for her third straight (Dist. Task) win. You remember just a few years ago how the racing world was wrapped in Goldikova, trying to win three. She did that. Now we have Royal Delta trying to do the same thing in her division.
But I think also you get a sneak in the next year’s Kentucky Derby. You know, we always look forward to the juvenile, the two year old, and who might go to the head of the class for next year’s derby and, you know, it is always interesting to see who might jump to the top and be the early derby favorite.
If we could predict some of those surprises we could make a lot of money guys. Have you thought about that? That is what we need to do (Andy).
Larry Collmus: You know, and there is always a story that pops up at the Breeders’ Cup. Last year in the classic Brian Hernandez who is pretty much a journeyman jockey who has never ridden at this level consistently, wins his first Breeders’ Cup race and it is the $5 million classic aboard Fort Larned on his birthday and I mean that is just the kind of story that you can’t make up – that thing – those kind of things happen all the time during the Breeders’ Cup days.
It seems like this event does take the Hollywood angle and kind of turn it up a notch and now you – with Billy Bush involved in it, the Breeders’ Cup has kind of raised its bar too with ambassadors and everything. How is that strategy do you think worked as a television visual over the years going back to Hollywood Park in the first time and now to where it is so much more commonplace I think to see Hollywood stars at the event? That is to anybody out there that wants to address it.
Rob Hyland: This is Rob, the producer. I will start off – just how I think it affects the telecast now, you know. You mentioned in your question. The Breeders’ Cup is a great event. It is not just a series of horse races, it is an event. So to me, for the casual viewer flipping through the channels on a Saturday night, we want to give them a reason to stop and watch and showing familiar faces in the context of a horse race may give a casual viewer a reason to stop and stay for a little while and I think it has had a positive effect.
Larry Collmus: Tom, you know, ours is a like it or not – and ours is a celebrity driven society and I think to make those a part of the event, as Rob says, can engage the causal viewer.
And I guess it is easier to do it out here than it would be at any other track?
Larry Collmus: I think that is correct. I mean, the Derby of course has its own special niche but yes, certainly there are better chances to attract celebrities here in Southern California.
Dan Masonson: Thanks everyone for joining us today. We look forward to Friday and Saturday, NBC Sports Network and NBC. Again, a reminder for the media there will be a transcript posted on nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com later this afternoon. Thanks everybody.