FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
BELMONT STAKES CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
Dan Masonson: Good afternoon everybody and welcome to today’s NBC Sports Belmont Stakes Conference Call. Our Belmont coverage begins tonight at 6:30 pm Eastern on NBCSN with a special 30-minute documentary on California Chrome. Saturday’s coverage kicks off at 2:30 pm Eastern on NBCSN before shifting to NBC at 4:30 pm Eastern.
The Belmont Stakes coverage will be immediately followed on NBC Saturday night by game two of the Stanley Cup Final.
Joining us on today’s call are Tom Hammond, Randy Moss, Hall of Fame Jockey and two-time Belmont Stakes winner, Jerry Bailey, Mike Battaglia, Bob Neumeier, our race caller Larry Collmus and Coordinating Producer, Rob Hyland.
We will begin with comments from each before taking your questions. With that, we will begin with our Coordinating Producer, Rob Hyland for some opening comments.
Rob Hyland: This is the biggest Belmont Production that NBC has produced in terms of broadcast schedule, the technical facilities and our field announcers. We’re all excited to be a part of this event and perhaps just before 7:00 Eastern we will be a part of the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.
But this team has been here before and for most of us this will be our fourth Triple Crown attempt that we’ve covered on NBC. In fact, just two years ago the day before the Belmont Stakes the Triple Crown contender I’ll Have Another scratched. So yes, the coverage will focus a lot on California Chrome, but we will make sure to introduce the entire field of the audience and to cover all contenders for the 146th Belmont Stakes.
Tom Hammond: Well of course when we started down the Triple Crown trail this is what we hoped for. Four times we’ve been in this position since NBC has had the rights to the Crown and we have yet to have our first Triple Crown score. I was here, as it turns out, in 1978, standing next to the late Chic Anderson, who was the race track announcer…he called the Affirmed and Alydar race. And so we’ve been looking for a Triple Crown winner ever since.
I’m hoping before I give it up I’ll see one in my lifetime. I think that because of this horse and his magnetism, because of his actions and because of all of the stories that go along with this horse, I think it’s going to be a huge event. I can remember when Smarty Jones went after the Triple Crown it was like America stopped to see if we would have a Triple Crown winner.
Partly because of the catchy name or either because of his connections, which weren’t normally Triple Crown players. And I think this one will be even bigger than that because of the story of California Chrome. Because he is flashy looking and because of the social media, it’s going to make this an even bigger event than it was with Smarty Jones. So I’m really looking forward to it. And while we won’t be rooting, I would like in the rest of my lifetime at least to see a Triple Crown winner if we could and to cover one would be great.
Randy Moss: I was in the newspaper business before I started in television. And I started in the newspaper business in 1979 covering horse racing. So I’ve often joked with some friends of mine if this whole Triple Crown drought might be partially my fault. I’ve been at Belmont Park for all of the near misses other than Spectacular Bid’s since Affirmed in ’78.
So, it’s a battle for me almost not to be jaded when you get to this situation because we’ve seen so many times in the past, you know, it just doesn’t transpire the way a lot of people want it to. Smarty Jones, Big Brown, Spectacular Bid…horses that a lot of us thought just could not lose. And they couldn’t pull it off. So it certainly gives us a keen of appreciation for the challenge that California Chrome faces on Saturday.
And as Tom said, we’re not rooting, obviously, but having seen failures so often through so many years we all would love at some point to see one of these horses pull it off and we all think California Chrome not only is a great story, but he’s in there with the fighting chance to pull it off. Maybe he’s the one.
Jerry Bailey: Yes, I see it from a different perspective. Of course I rode many Belmonts, won a couple, stopped one Triple Crown with Funny Cide in 2003. And at that point in time my job was to try and win a race even if it included denying the horse a Triple Crown. But from this side of the fence, I have the interest of what’s best for the sport and to see it would be wonderful.
As a jockey its very challenging because for most of us and including some of the guys this year, this will be the only time that you ride a mile and a half on this dirt — it’s one lap around Belmont Park is so you really have no practice at this. You do something one time a year it’s a little bit foreign to you so it explains some of the tactical errors that have been made over the years.
I mean I was never so sure in my life, even as a competitor, that there wouldn’t be a triple crown in Real Quiet’s year and Big Brown’s year. I really thought those were the horses to do it and having experienced disappointment its — I’m with Randy, I’m kind of skeptical to even go out on a limb to think that it’s going to happen this year, but California Chrome’s done nothing wrong and he should have a trouble free trip. And the question is does he have enough stamina to get the job done?
And that’s really the question of all of these horses when they come to the Belmont Stakes. Thank you.
Mike Battaglia: Yes this is exciting there’s no doubt about it. We’re not here to root. We’re here to report what happens. Yes, you know, we’d all like to see a Triple Crown winner. I think it’s going to be tough. I mean there’s 10 horses to go against him. I think Jerry alluded to the jockey Victor Espinoza has got a target on his back and these jockeys are going to be wanting to beat California Chrome. It’s not going to be taking it easy, a mile and a half. He’s the best horse that I’ve seen so far this year. If he does pull this off, he deserves to be in this company because this is not easy.
Bob Neumeier: We talk about the near misses over the years. You go back and so many things can happen. Three of these [contending] horses, at least two of them were given (odds of) 30 cents on the dollar, three to ten.
I don’t think Chrome will be in that range; although, I do expect him to be in the one to two, or three to five range as 0.50 or 0.60 cents on the dollar for the simple reason that I think there’s a lot of people that would love to (bet) for $2.00 or $10.00 and won’t even cash the ticket and frame it as a memento of what could happen on Saturday. So you could see just the position of rooters that want California Chrome to win and the high market and handicappers that are gamblers that are waiting to bet against California Chrome.
Because they know that the odds of some of the other contenders are going to be a lot higher than they normally would be. Because the average fan wants to see it and bet on it.
Larry Collmus: When Affirmed on the Triple Crown in 1978, I was in sixth grade. I was 11 years old. And I know a lot of the folks who are on here talked about what it was like when all these horses tried to win the Triple Crown and didn’t and they were all here to witness that. Well, this is a first for me, because not only have I never called a horse going for a Triple Crown, I’ve never seen it in person. I’ve never been here at Belmont Park for that.
So for me that’s going to be pretty cool to be able to be a part of that, just see the event going on and also be the guy that’s in charge of describing what’s going on while the race is running. And obviously the majority of the people watching this race are going to care about California Chrome, where he is, and my job is to let people know that.
So my race call definitely will focus on California Chrome more than most of the other horses in the race. But they’re all going to get a call. We’ll all have to follow what’s going to go on in the race. And it’s going to be interesting for me because like a normal racing fan, I think I want to root for California Chrome, but in the race hall I really can’t root for California Chrome. But I do think that it’s going to make it a lot more exciting if he does wind up winning this race. And I’m really looking forward to calling it on Saturday.
Tom, I think it was you who mentioned California Chrome’s charisma, but this is a question for everybody. Does a horse like Chrome attain charisma because it naturally has it or because we sort of emphasize the charisma? Because I know he’s won two races. He’s a handsome horse. He’s got the four socks. I mean, which way does the charisma get developed?
Tom Hammond: I think this horse does have charisma, and of course it no doubt has to do with our connections to the stories behind him. But I’m struck by the horse’s intelligence. Victor Espinoza was telling me that he talks in the ear back toward the jockey to actually listen to what the jockey tells him. When he tells him it’s time to go or its time to wait or whatever he says.
So he’s a really intelligent horse. When he comes out in the mornings to train, he might stand there by the track for five minutes just taking it all in. Who knows how a horse thinks, but maybe he’s planning his own strategy. So I think the horse does have charisma because of the way he looks, because of the way he acts and of course because of the back story of all of his connections.
This one’s for Jerry. Jerry, tell me what are the major concerns the jockey’s going to have riding at Belmont Park? For the layman, will he be able to see that in the broadcast? Will we be able to pick that up?
Jerry Bailey: Well the biggest difference for most of these riders that are coming in from out of town is they don’t ride Belmont Park on a daily basis and this is the only track in America that is a mile and a half in circumference. Because it is so large, the tendency for riders who are riding on a normal size track, a mile track, is to kind of move when we get to the far turn.
Just like people when they go out there throughout their daily routine, they leave their house and they go to a work. Let’s say they turn left at the supermarket and right at the bank and you just kind of get engrained in doing these things. But if you make that move on the far turn at Belmont Park like you would at Churchill Downs or at Pimlico in the Preakness, you’ve still got another 330 yards further to go than you would have on those other two tracks.
So, a move on the far turn at Belmont is much further. You have a lot longer distance to travel than you would at either of the other two Triple Crown races. The jockeys have to be very cognizant. When they decide to make their move they know exactly where they are geographically on this map at Belmont Track. Since they don’t ride these kind of races on this kind of track very often at all — some only once a year — it’s even more difficult to them.
California Chrome coming out of the two hole – is there an advantage or a disadvantage with that?
Jerry Bailey: My guess is it depends on the break. Assuming he breaks well, I mean, I believe it’s an advantage. He’s a fast-enough horse to get it all ready positioned. That position could be on the lead and he doesn’t have to lose any ground to do it. So to me it’s as long as the break is good, which he has had in the first two races of the Triple Crown then I think it’s an advantage.
Randy Moss: One significance of the post-position draw today is going to be strategic. There was a horse that did not enter the Belmont Stakes named Social Inclusion who had been expected to be the pace setter had he run. Without Social Inclusion it’s sort of leaves the mantel of the early pace setter up for grabs. And I think Jerry [Bailey] and I both believe that with this number-two postposition the pace setter of the race is now likely to beat California Chrome himself.
Tom Hammond: I think one of the great assets that California Chrome is an unusual ability to stop and start. Those horses are one run either early or late. But he has the ability, apparently, to give you a little bit of first-to-speed when you need it and to relax when you don’t. And I think that’s a tremendous
Mike Battaglia: I think if he gets the lead it’s going to be a very tough run to win because to get that mile and a half Victor Espinoza is not really used to this track. Not used to that mile-and-a-half. I think it’s going to be very tough. I think he’s going to be looking for somebody else to go tumbling. I don’t know. I think it’s going to be very tough.
So as for a post position, to me, you don’t know until they actually make the break. A horse could come over. Anything can happen with the post or mile-and-a-half. I just don’t see the two-hole as being an advantage or disadvantage at the start, I don’t.
Bob Neumeier: One point in strategy, I believe, is going to be a slow pace. I believe there are only four horses that could take the lead as who wants it. But I think they’ve got a disadvantage, the horses that want to come from off the pace for a couple of reasons.
One – it’s kind of counterintuitive. You think the longer the race the better chance a closer has. But it doesn’t work out that way. And Belmont Park is a speed-oriented race track — it kind of runs under the radar. I’ve done a little research about group races at Belmont Park and a mile over, and only one horse has won in this meet from being on six legs at the half-mile pole.
So clearly horses that are one, two, three, four was seem to have the advantage and they would be Chrome, Tonalist, Samraat, and even General a Rod. So horses like Commanding Curve and Ride On Curlin, if that is the scenario, I think you’re at disadvantage.
Larry Collmus: The other thing too – looking at the past successes – the recent Triple Crown successes, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed, by the time they got to the back stretch every one of those horses was on the lead. And so was Citation in 1948, who was before Secretariat.So there’s four right there.
Sports has been putting extra emphasis on broadcast audio in recent years — most notably in the form of discreet 5.1 surround. Does NBC have any particular plans for the sound for the Belmont Stakes? For instance — will you be mic’ing jockeys before or during the race, or any extra mic placements around the oval?
Rob Hyland: Yeah, you know, we’ve kind of choreographed the way we’re going to present the time after riders up through the beginning of the post parade. There’s a song, “New York, New York” that we’ll play while the horses are in the paddock. And once that song finishes and you hear the call to post, we’ve added a couple of microphones in the tunnel to be in that tunnel with Chrome as he makes his way through.
At a certain point Tom Hammond will get us back to Tom Durkin. The track announcer will let the crowd know that the Derby winner and Preakness winner California Chrome is about to make his way to the track. So yeah, we’ve added some microphones to account for this moment. We’ll have the microphone on owner Steve Coburn, a microphone on trainer Art Sherman.
We will definitely take advantage of 5.1 surround. We’ve got the best in the business mixing the show, Wendelle Stevens, who mixes Sunday Night Football, our flagship property in the fall. And we’ve talked about our plan on Saturday.
Do you think that horse racing on television in general can benefit from a little extra attention to the broadcast audio?
Rob Hyland: Can it benefit? Well it’s a sort that is very visual and very fast. And the sounds associated will only enhance the viewers’ experience. Absolutely.
Tom Hammond touched earlier on social media. And how do you think it plays into this – two years after I’ll Have Another — and even after Smarty Jones. How do you sort of incorporate that in your broadcast now?
Rob Hyland: Well it’s become such a big part of our daily lives. In fact I was showing some of the guys earlier a rap video that was put together on California Chrome and his story. There’s so much out there now that we monitor it. And if makes sense as an element within the show we include it.
But there are a lot of different platforms where we can display social media with our website. It is such a big part of our broadcast. So we’re constantly monitoring how we can incorporate the relevant information.
Do you think the audience is much of a social media, you know, junky?
Rob Hyland: I think it really depends what it is. What if a celebrity were to tweet out something funny before the race or give his or her best wishes and it made sense within the context of our broadcast, perhaps we can include it. But, you know, I have a pretty significant filter on what we can put on and what we don’t, keeping the audience in mind. And if it makes sense and if it enhances the viewers’ experience, it’ll find its way on our trailer.
Two years ago, I was reading an interview you did with the Daily Racing Form about I’ll Have Another. And I wanted to see if that sort of adds to how you prep for something like this. How you keep your cool. How you don’t get too flustered by something happening maybe Friday with California Chrome. Can you talk about how that experience has effected how you look at sports events now live?
Rob Hyland: Yeah, I mean, it goes across any sport. But, obviously, horse racing there are so many variables involved with it that, you know, you really have to keep your emotions in check and be able to react in any direction. Hey, a lot can happen on Saturday even if Chrome makes it to the starting gate once the gate’s open, and that’s part of this sport. That’s part of this business and part of the challenge of producing it. So, I always think about two years ago being in the production truck at 11:00 in the morning rehearsing the elements of my technical crew. My phone rang at the time and I didn’t answer it. I answered it when the rehearsal was done and I had some pretty bad news that was about to break to the public momentarily. So yeah, I mean, this is a sport where you need to be able to move in any direction at any given moment and never get too tied down to your format.
Just because you’re a California cool guy, right?
Rob Hyland: That’s right – that’s right. Born and raised in New York City, though. I was in training when I parked in Sherman.
Yeah I got a couple here for Rob, just as a quick one first. What’s going to be the policy on the undercard races during the NBC broadcast window? Are you guys going to be showing those live?
Rob Hyland: We’re going to show all races live on NBC. And we’ll show all races live that precede the Belmont. We’ll show the few races within the NBC window before the Belmont. The Mets Mile and the Manhattan. Both those races will be shown live.
The second question is, you know, post time is 6:52. And what time, you know, considering that so many things can happen with a horse race including an inquiry and things like that. What time do you guys have to get to the hockey game?
Rob Hyland: You know, there’s a plan in place for that. The hockey game coverage begins at 7:30. I guess everything is flexible. But as of now, the hockey game is scheduled to start at 7:30. And I’ll let Dan and others comment on the programming side of it. But, obviously, if the story were to emerge and we hadn’t finished telling it, we will have the chance to continue telling it until it’s dealt with. We’re not getting off the air before all stories have been sewed up.
Rob you mentioned the technical facilities were as big as you guys have ever had. I wondered if you could get into a little bit of the specifics on that and how much bigger is it had California Chrome not been on the doorstep with this?
Rob Hyland: You know, there are about 45 cameras on this show. The common includes about 10 handheld cameras, three super-slow motion cameras, a 4K camera. We definitely got this day covered. And [Drew] Esocoff and I — our director — took a walk about two weeks ago, the Monday after the Preakness, and today. We’ve got a Triple Crown on the line.
What do we want to enhance or supplement our coverage? We ended up adding about six or seven cameras. But again, our philosophy for how we cover a Triple Crown race will not change from what you saw at the Preakness or the Derby. We’ve added, essentially, some nice bells and whistles to hopefully enhance the viewers’ experience. But the way we document the race will still, essentially, be the same.