Tuesday, October 29, 2019
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today on our Breeders’ Cup conference call. NBC Sports’ Breeders’ Cup coverage begins Thursday with a special “Betting the Breeders’ Cup” show with Eddie Olczyk among the handicapping experts on that show. We’ll have 10.5 hours of coverage Thursday, Friday and Saturday culminating in primetime with the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 8:00 p.m. eastern on Saturday on NBC.
Joining us on today’s call, Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, Randy Moss, and Eddie Olczyk. We’ll begin with a few brief comments on the Breeders’ Cup events this week, and then we’ll take your questions. With that, I turn it over to Jerry Bailey for some comments.
JERRY BAILEY: It’s a long, long trip for me. I don’t come from middle America like these other two guys. I come from the East Coast, but it’s worth it to me because it’s a beautiful place. It’s at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains. A lot of people always attend this event here. The weather is almost always ideal, as it is right now, as we sit outside in mid-70-degree weather, and it’s just a very, very cool place to have the Breeders’ Cup, and I like coming here. I liked it when I rode, and I like it now doing television.
RANDY MOSS: Let me remind Jerry that I came from Saratoga last night to Los Angeles. I had a show-jumping voice-over at Saratoga. I share his pain coming from Florida.
We’ve had a very eventful, unusual year in NBC horse racing. We had — I’ll try to take it chronologically. We had the first disqualification in Kentucky Derby history. We had a Preakness and Belmont Stakes without the Kentucky Derby winner, Country House. We had a Preakness in which we had a horse throw his rider at the starting gate and run around the track rider-less, which is not a big deal if you know much about horse racing, but a lot of people found that to be highly amusing.
We had a Haskell telecast with no Haskell because the race had to be delayed due to extreme heat, and so we had an hour telecast, which was a first for NBC without an actual horse race. And of course we have had to deal a lot with the unfortunate situation with the horse deaths, the tragedies at Santa Anita over the past year. A lot has happened in horse racing. A lot has happened on NBC in our coverage of horse racing, and we are hoping for an uneventful and entertaining and competitive Breeders’ Cup this weekend.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Thanks, it’s always a good time of year when it comes to our game and bringing in horses from all over the world and being able to put them on center stage at such an incredible setting as Santa Anita, as Jerry alluded to. Santa Anita has always been one of my favorite tracks to play for all the years I’ve been playing the horses and handicapping, and also being a part of our incredible NBC horse racing team. Plenty of opportunities, not only with the Breeders’ Cup races that we have and the 14 total but also the card that is going to — I should say plural, cards, that are available both on Friday and Saturday.
So for a handicapper and for somebody that is always looking for value, always looking for maybe that horse that isn’t getting the respect, this is a handicapper’s dream when you have full fields, so competitive.
I’ll just zero in quickly on the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and I’m sure Randy and Jerry and I will get into it as the week goes on and then on our coverage on NBCSN and NBC, but I think the Breeders’ Cup Classic has a chance to be a heck of a race, and just right now I would think it’s going to be McKinzie with Bob Baffert, and you could be looking at a horse that is 3:1, 7:2 as far as odds to go off as the favorite, so that says, look, the second, third, fourth choice were going to be in that four to five to six range and maybe even a little bit higher than that, depending on the pool and what have you.
There is incredible value all day, but in particular the race that everybody zeroes in on, and horses that people know from either running in the Triple Crown or because they’re trained by Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher, the value in the Breeders’ Cup Classic is going to be as good as we’ve seen.
I have to go back a handful of years when you’re talking about the Breeders’ Cup Classic, sitting there going, you know what, there really isn’t a horse that you go, yep, he’s for sure going to finish first or second. I don’t see that. I do have a strong opinion, but you’re going to have to wait for that for Saturday when I give my pick on NBC.
But it is always great to be a part of our incredible team, and looking forward to getting to LA tonight and then spending a few days preparing and prepping and putting it all on the line come Friday and Saturday on NBCSN and NBC.
Q. What would you say are the big storylines to look out for for the Classic on Saturday?
JERRY BAILEY: Well, I’ll guess we’ll start with the favorite, McKinzie. Bob Baffert, his trainer, is trying to go for his fourth Classic. He’s replacing his jockey, Mike Smith, who has been with McKinzie and Baffert through last year’s Triple Crown and a lot of major victories before, during and since that Triple Crown run.
He’s putting Joel Rosario on, so there’s a bit of a small divorce issue between Baffert and Smith. You have Code of Honor coming off two great wins, trying to cement his three-year-old of the year title aspirations.
RANDY MOSS: Another huge storyline in the race is the presence of the five-year-old mare named Elate. 2019 is the 10-year anniversary of Zenyatta’s win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic here at Santa Anita, which is the only time to date in the history of the Classic, which began in 1984, in which a female racehorse defeated the males. Elate has a solid chance to follow in Zenyatta’s footsteps on her 10-year anniversary. Elate is a mare who specializes at the mile-and-a-quarter distance of the Classic, and that is the reason, really the only reason, that trainer Bill Mott and her owners have decided to run her against the males in the classic as opposed to keeping her against her own sex earlier on the card in the Distaff.
JERRY BAILEY: Also not just specific to the Classic but the Classic having a big bearing on Horse of the Year, there’s several races throughout the Breeders’ Cup that have horses in them that could lay claim to the stake of Horse of the Year if other things materialize. For example, Bricks and Mortar in the turf; if he were to win impressively and other favorites get beat, he could be up for the Horse of the Year. Mitole in the sprint, same thing; Sister Charlie —
RANDY MOSS: Midnight Bisou —
JERRY BAILEY: Midnight Bisou in the distaff. There’s about five or six horses that would legitimately have a claim for Horse of the Year if other favorites disappoint in other races.
RANDY MOSS: Did you mention that Mike had a mount in the Classic?
JERRY BAILEY: Mike Smith, who I mentioned was taken off of McKinzie by Bob Baffert, now rides Yoshida for Bill Mott, who he won the Classic with on Drosselmeyer some years back.
RANDY MOSS: So if you don’t think Mike Smith would find it sweet to be taken off of McKinzie and then beat McKinzie in the classic, you don’t know how competitive these guys are.
EDDIE OLCZYK: One more thing, if I could just add on to Jerry and Randy, we’re talking specifically about the Classic, and Jerry touched on — and he’s lived it, and nobody can talk more pure and clean about the changing of the jockeys and decisions that go into it, and also he mentioned about McKinzie, but also let’s not forget the decision that Johnny Velazquez made on Code of Honor, of jumping on the back of Code of Honor and getting off of Vino Rosso, so that’s another storyline specifically about the Classic, which I think is what makes it so, so intriguing as a horse player, a horse lover, and just the ins and outs of deciding, well, the decision-making that goes on when you get to those final minutes before the race and where you’re going to go or if you’ve already got your mind made up. But the jockey carousel I think is obviously in full swing when you talk about the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
RANDY MOSS: Let me interject one more thing and then I’ll shut up on this particular topic. Frankie Dettori, the famous jockey based in England, one of, if not the greatest jockeys in the world, has commented that one of the reasons that he loves the Breeders’ Cup so much is that it has a Ryder Cup feel to it, Europe versus the U.S.
Well, the Breeders’ Cup in all the races typically has an East versus West feel to it. It’s a chance to get the best horses in the east running against the best horses in the west, which you don’t always get during the course of the year, and in the Classic in particular, you’ve got McKinzie, Mongolian Groom, you’ve got another horse in there, Higher Power, who are based in Southern California, who are accustomed to Santa Anita, to the surface at Santa Anita, and now they go up against all the horses based in New York and some in Kentucky who are shipping across country to run against them in their backyard, so it’s another little added element of interest.
Q. Jerry, how much does racing, and Santa Anita specifically, need an incident-free weekend in front of a national TV audience to show that these reforms that have been put in place are working?
JERRY BAILEY: As a guy that rode them for many, many years, and now speaks to them via television, safety is always on my mind with riders and horses. And it is important that we get through this injury-free. But look, this is another form of athletics. Athletics in general come with injury. Unfortunately for horses, they can’t recover like human beings, and while most of the injuries in horse racing are not catastrophic and horses recover from them, usually race again, but almost always live, there are certain ones that are catastrophic, and unlike human beings that can be immobilized, horses cannot. Therefore the severity measures make it unfortunate.
We’ve had injuries on Breeders’ Cup shows, on Triple Crown shows before, and as horrible as they are, and they are, we’ll cover them and we will speak to them and we will have opinions from vets and hopefully they’re not the catastrophic kind if we have any at all, but it’s part of athletics in general, and we will cover them.
RANDY MOSS: And keep in mind, also, this is a long-term process, right. I know the eyes of the world are on Santa Anita and are on the Breeders’ Cup, and it’s obviously critically important for the Breeders’ Cup that they get through this weekend without an incident, but an incident-free weekend doesn’t necessarily mean that the reforms are working, and an injury this weekend doesn’t necessarily mean that the reforms aren’t working. There’s a lot at stake, but this is an issue that’s got to be viewed from a long-term lens to sort of insulate yourself from the happenstance things that can happen with a short period of time and a small sample size.
So after six months, after eight months, after a year, you go back and look at Santa Anita, look at all the reforms, compare Santa Anita to all the other race tracks around the country, and we’ll know a lot more then about exactly how these reforms are taking hold.
JERRY BAILEY: Almost the exact thing happened in New York in 2012 and they went through a systematic change and reforms, a laundry list of things that they changed, medications, administration of medications, track surface attention, and it cut their injury rate in half. Looking back on it, what they did worked. Hopefully what Santa Anita has done when we look back on it will have worked.
Q. The main track at Santa Anita has been deep, and obviously we know why it’s been deep. It’s been favoring front runners and it’s not very conducive to closers. Do you think there’s a chance that on Friday and Saturday they might tighten that track up and make it a little bit more fair, and if not, what do you do with horses that usually come off the pace a little bit more?
RANDY MOSS: I think they’re so concerned right now primarily, as they should be, with horse safety, going into this Breeders’ Cup, that I would be surprised if they make any substantial changes for this weekend to tighten it up. They’ve added cushion to it. They’ve made it deeper. They’ve made it a little more forgiving to try to prevent some of these catastrophic injuries that have happened at Santa Anita.
And specifically to your point, the way the racetrack is playing in general, speed versus come-from-behinders, but also more specifically how the Eastern-based horses are handling deeper surface in California is going to be a huge storyline because there are Eastern trainers that are concerned that their horses won’t handle the surface as well as the California horses that have been out here and that have gotten accustomed to it, and there are California trainers that we’ve talked to that think that they may have a pretty significant home track advantage, even more so than usual. So we’ll be watching that right off the bat on Friday.
EDDIE OLCZYK: And from a handicapping point of view, I think that you certainly will look to see the trends, the way specific races are starting and finishing and being able to go to school, and that’s — look, the track changes from day-to-day and the temperature and all that has a lot to do with it, but if you see that one specific angle on a particular track or the distance or if there’s an opportunity to have it weighted in your favor, then as a handicapper you’re going to certainly look to horses that are either front runners or just off the pace. That’s what handicapping is; having a feel and having an idea how the race is going to be run before the race runs and then try to figure out and do a process of elimination, so something keeping a very close eye on from a distance, but even more so to when we get to Friday and see how the track is playing and then obviously getting into the big day on Saturday.
Q. I’ve heard the turf course is more like a putting green than anything right now. Could you speak about the turf course?
JERRY BAILEY: Santa Anita has always been more closely mown and a tighter-knit turf course than a lot of East Coast courses, but a Gulfstream Park is an example of an East Coast course that’s tightly mown, and it’s very similar to Santa Anita. Belmont is completely different. It’s longer grass. It’s a little more tiring. European courses are much more different. But I think that’s why certain trainers and owners send certain horses to the Breeders’ Cup when it’s out there for that specific reason. Their horses will handle that type of course.
RANDY MOSS: Personally, from a handicapping perspective, I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about the difference between Eastern turf courses and the Santa Anita turf course. I would look to just focus on your handicapping, who the best horse is and — I personally don’t think you’ve got to worry a whole lot about that.
EDDIE OLCZYK: And as far as the grass, I would say I think Santa Anita has always been a fair turf course. I mean, there have been times where the downhill, the six-and-a-half-furlong downhill turf, obviously they haven’t used that course in a long, long time, but I think that it’s been pretty fair over the years, and that’s how I’m going to attack it on Friday and Saturday.
Q. Randy touched on the fact that this is the 10-year anniversary of Zenyatta’s win in the Classic. I’m interested in both of you, Randy and Jerry, what are your memories of that race and the atmosphere of the crowd when she crossed the wire first?
RANDY MOSS: That was a great call by Trevor Denman.
JERRY BAILEY: Well, it was historic, obviously, a female beating the males in the Classic. As I said in the opening, a lot of people come to watch the races here at Santa Anita, so you typically get a big crowd, and she was a home-court horse, female against male, so she had a lot of people rooting for her. She had a huge fan club, and yeah, it was special, it really was.
RANDY MOSS: She was a synthetic track specialist, and Santa Anita happened to have a synthetic racing surface at that time, so that played to her come-from-behind running style and was right in her wheelhouse, and it was — to watch the verse that Zenyatta put forth through the stretch, to run down some pretty good male horses. Gio Ponti was a really nice horse, and she left him in her wake. So that was a career-defining moment for Zenyatta, to be sure. And it certainly resonated with horse racing fans everywhere because when she came back the next year at Churchill Downs to try to end her career undefeated, I don’t ever recall any particular Breeders’ Cup race that generated as much interest from casual mainstream sports fans as that 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic did.
Zenyatta was quite a name in Breeders’ Cup history.
Q. Do you think in that defeat she gained more respect than she did in any of her wins?
RANDY MOSS: I’ll tell you, the line — Jerry and I laugh about this because there was a line that I wanted to get in in the aftermath of Blame’s win over Zenyatta in that Breeders’ Cup Classic, that I never got a chance to get in because of time reasons, and I also probably forgot it, but I’ve used it since. It’s the best race Zenyatta ever ran and the only race she ever lost.
Q. Jerry, Phil Georgeff went to his grave saying the three greatest riders he ever saw were Eddie Arcaro, Bill Hartack and you. So take that. 17 years ago Chicago was a God because Arlington Park was going to host the Breeders’ Cup. Jerry, you rode here for a couple seasons during your period of assent. Churchill Downs has now elected to put the track on death’s doorstep. When you see something like that, Jerry, what are your thoughts?
JERRY BAILEY: Well, it makes me sad. I couldn’t wait for the Breeders’ Cup to get to Chicago. As a matter of fact, our hotel was downtown, and I took the train from downtown to Arlington Park, which let off behind the grandstand, because I enjoy the Midwestern fan so much. I had a hoot just talking to the people and visiting with the people on the train back and forth. That’s how much I like Midwestern people, Chicago racing in particular, and I loved it there. I mean, I moved on because there were better opportunities for me on the East Coast, but I loved racing in Chicago. My wife is from the Midwest. She’s from Southern Illinois. I just had a wonderful time at the Breeders’ Cup there. I wish it would go back actually, and it kills me, it pains me to know that such a beautiful track that Dick Duchossois built may be going out of existence. That’s no fun.
Q. Eddie, if I could ask you one quick Chicago-based question, please. You’ve got the new book out, “Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life,” which is a fantastic book. What are the nuts and bolts of your travel schedule from Chicago out to Santa Anita and then back to the Blackhawks?
EDDIE OLCZYK: I appreciate it. I’m actually in Nashville this evening with the Blackhawks, and the schedule makers were maybe looking down upon my schedule because the Blackhawks’ next game is Saturday night in LA at Staples Center against the Kings, so actually I am going to be making my way to California after the game tonight, and I will be at our production meeting tomorrow and then our Breeders’ Cup betting show on Thursday. I’ll work Friday, I’ll work Saturday, I’ll make my pick on NBC, and then I will fight traffic from Santa Anita to Staples Center on Saturday night, and I get the ultimate daily double of doing the Breeders’ Cup and doing the Blackhawks and Kings for NBC Sports Chicago on Saturday night. So that will be my week. It doesn’t get any better than that, pucks and ponies, and hopefully I’ll be weighing a little bit more when I’m doing that game with Pat Foley on Saturday night, especially in my pockets if you know what I mean.
— NBC Sports —