Thursday, May 1st, 2014


Dan Masonson:  Good morning everyone and welcome to our Kentucky Derby conference call for the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. We are joined on the call today by our Coordinating Producer Rob Hyland and our talent Tom Hammond, Randy Moss, Jerry Bailey, Mike Battaglia, Bob Neumeier and the race caller Larry Collmus. With that I will turn it over to Rob Hyland. Each is going to make a brief comment and then we will open up to questions. Rob?

Rob Hyland:  Thanks, Dan. This is my 10th Kentucky Derby with NBC. It’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of this sporting event, and, you know, the goal is to inform the audience of all the horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby, and it’ll be done through the connections of each horse. Fran Genter, the owner, will present some of the personalities of the Derby horses.

The unique thing about the Kentucky Derby is there are just so many layers to each of the stories, the horse, the trainer, the jockey, and we’ll effort to showcase a lot of the great ones in this year’s Derby. We’ll spend more than 2 1/2 hours to present about two minutes of action, so our job is to capture the day, and all of the layers, and as effectively as possible.

You’ll see a showcase of the Twin Spires, the mint juleps, the infield, all part of the day’s celebration that is the Kentucky Derby. With that, I turn it over to Tom.

Tom Hammond:  Tom Hammond here, and back for another Derby. This is our favorite time of the year, really, at the start of the Triple Crown. It seems that the Derby just keeps getting bigger and better and attracting so much interest these days. I think this year is a perfect illustration of why the Derby is so popular in America, why it’s America’s greatest race.

It’s because it’s the great equalizer. You can’t buy that Kentucky Derby trophy. You have to earn it. And there have been plenty of millionaires that have tried to do it. There’ll be plenty of millionaires owning horses in tomorrow’s race, but the favorite is a couple of average guys who go to work every day.

They bought a mare for $8,000. They were called dumbasses for doing it, and their stable is Dumbass Partners. They have California Chrome, who is sort of everyman’s horse in this race. One of the owners had a dream that he was going to be a great horse.

He does look like chrome. He’s got white all over him. They turned him over to a 77-year-old trainer who had never had a horse race in the Kentucky Derby, who came here in 1955 with swaps, as an attendant, and won the Kentucky Derby in 1955. Now he’s back with a horse in the race for the first time. So, it’s a great story and it’s a story that you only get in thoroughbred racing, really.

The horses don’t know if their owner has a million dollars or just goes to work at 4:00 o’clock in the morning every day, as one of the owners of California Chrome does. So, whoever runs the fastest wins the trophy and, to me, that’s what makes the Derby so great.

Dan Masonson:  Randy?

Randy Moss:  Yeah, I’m Randy Moss. I was in the media as a newspaper reporter for about half of my experience. I’ve heard the stories and actually got a chance to meet him at one point, Red Smith, the legendary sports writer who always loved covering the Kentucky Derby more than any other sports event just because of what Tom referenced, all the rich storylines that the Derby always seems to come up with, with California Chrome obviously being at the top of that list.

But you also have the Wounded Prayer Stable, the owners of Uncle Sigh. You have the Jimmy Jerkins story. He’s the trainer of Wicked Strong. The name of that horse, of course, named in remembrance of the Boston Marathon tragedy from a year ago. Apparently we’ll have Tony Danza here to make the walk over with the horse Danza, the Arkansas Derby winner that was named after him.

We’ve all covered the Kentucky Derby for a long time. Me not as long as Tom, but ’48 for you?

Tom Hammond:  Well, I’m not sure exactly how many I’ve covered, but I went to my first one 50 years ago, in 1964, and when NBC had the NBA playoffs I missed some in there, but I’ve been to virtually every one for the last 50 years.

Randy Moss:  I go back to 1980, so, you know, it’s obviously not a bucket-list item anymore, been there, done that. You’d think it would get to be old hat but when the calendar turns to January every year and we start seeing the Derby up ahead on the horizon you start getting that sort of antsy feeling and you start getting really interested in all the horses. It’s always special, no matter how many times you’ve done it, to get here on the ground in Louisville and start working on that Derby.

Dan Masonson:  Jerry?

Jerry Bailey:  I’m Jerry Bailey, and this is awesome for me. From a jockey’s perspective, having ridden all over the world, I will tell you this is the hardest race in the world for us to win. It’s the most rewarding but it’s most definitely the hardest. We have some cool stories in this year’s Kentucky Derby. We have Gary Stevens at 51.

We saw him win the Preakness last year but if you ask him which race he’d like to win if you only gave him one of these, it would be the Kentucky Derby, I guarantee you. He’s trying to win his fourth as well as Calvin Burrell. It’ll be interesting to see if Calvin can get from Post 18 all the way to the inside before we get to the first turn, but he’s known for those kinds of rides so we’ll kind of watch and see.

A couple of brothers that have never ridden the Kentucky Derby, riding against each other, from New York, Irad Ortiz and his younger brother Jose. And then, of course, we have Rosie Napravnik trying to be the first female to win the Kentucky Derby so there’s a lot of cool jockey stories within this year’s Kentucky Derby. Larry?

Larry Collmus:  Well, this is Larry Collmus, the race caller for the Derby. This will be my fourth one for NBC and my first one as the actual track announcer at Churchill Downs, so it’ll be a little bit of a change. I’m glad that Tom has already used the words ‘dumbass’ so I know I’m allowed to say that, but I for sure will not use that in the race call of the Kentucky Derby. But –

Tom Hammond:  Unless you miscall it.

Larry Collmus:  Yeah, exactly. No, we don’t want to bring up any miscalls, no. Of course, my main job is to keep track of 20 horses and as of this morning I was pretty sure I knew who everyone was as far as all the jockey folks and then they threw us a little curve ball with Hopportunity coming out, and it looks like Pablo Del Monte will come in, and that will add another purple set of silks just like California Chrome so something else to follow for me.

As the guy who calls the Kentucky Derby it is the most difficult horse race to call in this country because not only do you have to keep track of 20 horses, but you have everyone listening to everything you say, on NBC of course, where last year we had more than 16 million people watching the race. So, of course there are a lot of nerves that you have to deal with when it comes to that, but so far I’ve been able to keep things in check and I’m looking forward to following them around the track and be the first person to tell everybody who won the Kentucky Derby as soon as they hit the wire.

Tom Hammond:  This is Tom. I just want to say that Larry handles that pressure and everything so well. His calls of the Triple Crown open up each of our horse racing shows, and you still get a chill down your spine when you hear his calls of all the Triple Crown races he has done, so I can’t even fathom calling a horse race with 20 horses in it and he’s just done an amazing job.

Larry Collmus:  Thank you.

Dan Masonson:  Bob Neumeier?

Bob Neumeier:  Yes, Bob Neumeier here. I’ve been fortunate enough to be with NBC since we got the rights in, I think, 2001 with Monarchos, and with the Breeder’s Cup, NBC, since 1990. One of my jobs in this show is to bring us information from the betting point of view, from the fan’s point of view, as to who we think is a good shot to win this race.

Last year both Mike and I agreed that Orb was the horse to bet, and he went off at 61 and he won the race, and yet this year I went with California Chrome as a favorite, and I think there are seven or eight horses in this race that have every bit as good a chance to win as California Chrome.

So, for the price shoppers out there, for those who like stuff in the 8 to 15 to 1 range, to me you have every bit as good a chance to win this race as California Chrome does. So, I think if they ran the race ten different times it would be eight different winners, so that’s my view of just how difficult and how exciting it’s going to be because I think it is one of these years where it is truly a wide open affair.

Dan Masonson:  And Mike Battaglia?

Mike Battaglia:  The Derby is always a wide open affair anymore with 20 horses. You mentioned Orb last year. We actually went off the favorite at a long price. But California Chrome is a deserving favorite this year. This is my 42nd straight Derby and I’ll tell you what, every one of them is different. Every one of them is exciting in their own way. I can’t wait to see what happens on Saturday with this one.

Things change and they go back and forth but one thing stays the same in the Derby, it’s the tradition. You love to be part of the tradition of the Kentucky Derby and just been happy to be a part of that.

As you said, this year California Chrome, a lot of people think he’s a beautiful favorite. I kind of agree with you on that too. Nothing against California Chrome, it’s just that he hasn’t proven himself outside of California. We’ll have to see how he handles the track. But I just think it’s going to be another great Derby. It always is.

Dan Masonson:  Okay. Thank you. Let’s open up to questions.

Hi, guys. For Mike or Bob, if I could get your thoughts on Wicked Strong, what you see from the horse and coming out of the outside post position.

Bob Neumeier:  Well, Wicked Strong, I’m a Bostonian so I have an emotional attachment to Wicked Strong. He’s owned by a group of people from my hometown and, of course, named in remembrance of the marathon bombing. Strictly as a horse, I like him in this race. He has a unique kind of derby style meaning I like horses typically that run from the back of the pack from what we call off the pace, particularly in races where we think there is a lot of front speed and set it up like Orb last year that came from the back. So Wicked Strong has that in him.

And did you know him before that or how did you get in touch with him?

Bob Neumeier:  For this year’s race, I don’t know how Mike feels about it, but yeah, it would certainly be my top five.

Mike Battaglia:  Well, it’s second choice. With the stretch of opportunity he is the second choice in the morning line. The outside post could be a little dicey for him but I like the fact that there is a lot of early speed in here and I do think he will be closing. He’s got to come out of the gate though if he starts throwing his antics that he has done in the past and the gate – he is going to lose all chance. It is how he performs, how he handles the crowd, how he handles the walk over. All of that is very important, but yeah, I think he will be running at the end.

For both Bob and Mike a couple of horses that Don Little has owned Intense Holiday and General A’Rod. Give me your thoughts about that and what are their chances.

Mike Battaglia:  Intense Holiday is training great. He is training as well as any horse here. Heard nothing but good things about Intense Holiday. Still A’Rod I think he might be compromised. He has been running at gulfstream. He is a good horse. He is another one of these speed horses, though I don’t know if he has tactical speed. I don’t know that he can take that too far off the pace and I don’t know that he could keep up with the early runners. I think of the two of those, Intense Holiday is definitely the better.

Bob Neumeier:  Yeah, Intense Holiday is certainly the close horse this week. I want to speak for General A’Rod because I happened the cover the Florida derby and I wrote for the Triple Crown for NBCSN. And I thought that was the first of his best races thus far. Four horses have excellent quality and General A’Rod climbed and finished in a decent third and I think he is kind of flying under the radar. So he is one of those horses that again I would group into that two, three, four, five horse underneath cloud and it wouldn’t surprise me if he went off in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 to 1. And I think General A’Rod is an excellent play.

This one is to the panel. Guys you know all of you in your early comments talked about tradition. You know in this day and age of instant everything that makes the Triple Crown – not just the Kentucky Derby, but also the Triple Crown. How come it has stayed on such a high level with viewing audiences year in and year out. Is it a family thing or what makes it work?

Tom Hammond:  It is a family ting. As you may know the derby, audience is 51% female. All of the Olympics are in that same category, so they are attracted to all of the hoopla that surrounds the derby and the Triple Crown itself – one of the reasons I think it remains so popular is because it has become so difficult to do. Only 11 Triple Crown winners in history and only since 1978 when Affirmed won it the last time. So but everyone wants to tune into to see you know if somebody can finally win the Triple Crown.

When Smarty Jones went for the Triple, America stopped to see if he could do it. People walking through airports found the closest television. You had to see whether Smarty could pull it off. He couldn’t of course, but with the quest for the Triple Crown remains such an attractive thing I think for viewers to see if somebody could finally do it and you can’t even imagine the acclaim if some horse does finally pull off the Triple Crown.

Randy Moss:  There are so many sports out there right now competing for viewership and competing for attention in the mainstream media. And I think we’ve gotten to the point as a sports society where we are largely a big event society. A lot of people don’t pay that much attention to the U.S. Open or the NBA until you get to the playoffs or baseball unless you are a diehard fan until you get to the playoffs or the World Series.

You know the Kentucky Derby especially but also the Preakness and the Belmont fall into that same category. So I think that’s why you know it may be horse racing in general in some areas might be struggling. The Triple Crown is as popular or maybe even more popular now with the viewership around the country than it has ever been.

One last quick one to Rob. Anything special for production standpoint to look forward to over the coverage weekend here from Thursday all the way through?

Rob Hyland:  We have a couple of cameras. I think one of the more fun elements of the show will be Donna Brothers. You know she wears an RF camera when she rides on her report during her interviews. We are actually going to put her at the Churchill Downs, which if you haven’t seen it is pretty darn impressive. And she will be delivering a couple of reports from this video structure and we are actually planning a little surprise for her.

I think Donna admitted to me she is 5 foot 3 and around 100 pounds and we are going to put her image in this jumbo video board for the entire 150,000 strong, so she will be the largest person in the state of Kentucky on Saturday. The trick is getting the horse up that high.

Hi gentlemen. Thanks for taking the time to do this. My question I guess is for the panel that obviously Tom, Randy, Jerry; anybody could jump in here on this. Just want to talk about the fact that this is the 140th iteration of the derby and the history behind that. I mean for you guys, is there a specific moment that stands out to you or is it the fact that there a few events that have really been around this long in the history of sports itself?

Tom Hammond:  Because I’m the oldest – this is Tom and I can add to that. The first one I already mentioned is we saw Northern Dancer in 1964. He completed the mile and a quarter in two minutes flat which was the record until Secretariat broke it and I went on and I saw him in the blue grass state in Keeneland and sort of fell in love with this little horse. Came to Churchill Downs to run.

He went on to win the Preakness and then I went to New York to see him contest the Triple Crown. He didn’t make it through to win the Triple Crown but I also remember that day being fascinated by seeing Chris Schenkel host the television broadcast. The Belmont was at Aqueduct that year while they were rebuilding Belmont Park and it stuck in my mind for a long time without broadcasting the derby.

But there are so many great ones. Secretariat, of course, you are going to talk about. They had Seattle Slew, the Triple Crown winners, who began their quest in the Kentucky Derby, have always been special. The candidate winning the 100th Kentucky Derby Woody Stevens was also a pretty special moment.

So you know I would have to sit down and try to catalog them all. I mean when you’ve seen as many as I have there are an amazing number of great moments.

Jerry Bailey:  Well for me, on a personal note, when you decide to become a jockey. I never even dreamed of getting here, but being able to win it was for me was a lifetime experience. But setting that aside and coming into the broadcast world and looking at all of the Kentucky Derbys as a whole, I was a little too young at the time to enjoy Secretariat or really remember it, but Seattle Slew because I was living in Hialeah earlier that spring. I thought what he overcame at the gate and how he went onto win and the of course the Triple Crown. He was just an unbelievable animal. So for me an experience like that is just ingrained in my soul and those are the moments that make this race so special.

Mike Battaglia:  I will never forget Jerry Bailey’s win on Grindstone in the Kentucky Derby. It was the closest finish ever in the Kentucky Derby and it was Jerry Bailey and Cavonnier on the inside with McCarran and they hit the wall together. And it was the last race, the last derby that I called for Churchill Downs and I didn’t know who won it. Jerry didn’t know who won it and McCarran didn’t know who won it until they posted the photo – moments like that you remember all the time.

This one is for Larry. You know now being able to call both the derby and the races at Churchill Downs being the third person to do that, just talk about you what that means for you.

Larry Collmus Well it means a lot for me. Obviously, I’ve been able to do this for NBC the last three years, which by itself is just an amazing thing. And to add the fact that I will be doing it for the crowd at Churchill Downs make is twice as good and I am really looking forward to being the guy that gets the call at the Kentucky Derby for both.

And again, only Mike has done it and Chick Anderson before me, so certainly I’m in great company and I am definitely looking forward to Saturday. Of course, I can’t wait for it to be over too because as Mike can tell you, the lead off is definitely a little bit nerve wracking for us. But once they hit the wire, all of that is over and we hope they all get around there great and we have a terrific race to call on Saturday.