Wednesday, May 1, 2019 at 3 PM ET
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today’s Kentucky Derby conference call. We have 18 hours of coverage that begins tomorrow on NBCSN which all leads up to the five-hour Kentucky Derby show this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. eastern on NBC.
We’ve also announced some new additions to our Derby team this year, including our Premier League host Rebecca Lowe, our NASCAR and NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Von Miller of the Denver Broncos, the Super Bowl 50 MVP. There’s also many new innovations this year, which we’ll get to shortly.
Joining us on today’s call, Mike Tirico, who hosts his third Kentucky Derby; our analyst Randy Moss and Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey who has twice won the Derby; our handicapper Eddie Olczyk, who picked the top three horses in last year’s Derby; our race caller Larry Collmus, and our coordinating producer Rob Hyland.
We’ll start with some opening comments and then we’ll take your questions.
ROB HYLAND: Thanks, Dan. It’s certainly groundhog day; I begin this call every year sort of recapping my connection to this event. 18 years ago, as part of our first Kentucky Derby on NBC, it was a 90-minute show, a handful of reporters, we showed one race, and that was it.
Fast forward to 2019, we’ve got 16 announcers this year, more than 50 cameras, and we’ve got more than 15 hours of coverage. It’s grown quite a bit. As Dan mentioned, this year’s announcing team features some new faces. We’re really excited to welcome Rebecca Lowe as the co-host of this year’s Kentucky Derby. Our analyst and reporter Nick Luck made the trip over from London, England. He is a part of our Royal Ascot and Breeders’ Cup coverage. And I’m really excited to work with Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers to ever race, and he’s been a part of NASCAR’s biggest event, and we’re really excited to have him be a part of horse racing’s biggest event. And finally, Von Miller, who yesterday described the Derby as being a great combination of culture, fashion and sport, all things he really enjoys. We’re really excited to get his perspective on fashion.
The party is going on around the country, and there’s a giant party happening right here at Churchill Downs. As Dan mentioned, there are a few technical innovations. If there are any questions, I can detail those. But one format note that we’re excited about, I work with Mike Tirico on Football Night in America each Sunday in the fall, and we ended the season in Kansas City at the divisional game between the Colts and the Chiefs, and we began that pregame show outside the stadium around a sea of thousands of people, braving the elements that day. There was a big snowstorm in Kansas City. And it made me think, how can we connect our horse racing announcers to the fans, the atmosphere, the excitement, the energy of the day? So for the first half of the NBC telecast, Mike, Jerry and Randy will be presenting the show from the paddock with that sea of people in the background, and I think it will change the overall energy for the first half of the show.
Eventually they’ll make their way out to turn 1, so they can see the horses making the way from the barn area to the paddock, but really excited about that one format change.
With that, I turn it over to the next speaker. Dan, why don’t you take it away.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to Mike Tirico.
MIKE TIRICO: Thanks, Dan. Hi, everybody. I’ll be brief so you can hear from the horse racing experts here on the call. I do want to say one thing, that Rob at the helm of our coverage, who you just heard from, does an incredible job with organizing our entire team. We are all really proud that our Belmont coverage last year was nominated for an Emmy, and a lot of that work and the work that we do here is because of Rob’s tireless work on this sport.
I’m sitting in front of a huge white board that has probably about 2,000 characters on it with the stories and the run-down theme for the entire show, and it’s a couple of months of ideas and thoughts that culminate in our show, and Rob is the captain of our team, and there’s not a better one to work with.
For me personally, I’m really blessed to be a part of a great month here at our company. We start with this big race and end with another big race, as we’ll be at Indy at the end of the month, the first time NBC presents the Indianapolis 500. You think of two sporting events, one with 175,000 folks here at the Derby, and then one at the end of the month two hours away up I-65 in Indianapolis, where there will be about 300,000 people, two of, if not the two, biggest attended American sports events, and they bracket our month at NBC, and then we go right from there to the start of the Stanley Cup Finals.
It’s an exciting time for us. This is an amazing event. When everybody asks about it, they say, I hear the Derby is fun. And I always like to tell them, well, we think it’s fun. We’re working for five hours on TV, but we’re having a blast doing it.
It’s a great honor to be hosting this show and with this amazing group, and with that, I’ll turn it over to Randy Moss along with Jerry Bailey, our lead analysts on the show.
RANDY MOSS: Hi, it’s Randy. When Mike mentions horse racing experts, I always kind of smile because I have to remind people that the only true experts in horse racing have four legs.
This will be my 39th Kentucky Derby. One thing that hasn’t changed is that it’s the one time of the year when sports fans throughout America who aren’t — who don’t necessarily characterize themselves as horse racing fans — will pay keen attention to the sport. When you meet people and you tell them what you do, that’s obviously the first thing they want to ask about.
The one thing that has changed a lot over the years is that when I first started doing the Kentucky Derby, you had the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and you had the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, but other than that, there were not really any top racehorses that typically ran on this weekend. And now it has developed to the point where the card is just loaded with major stakes races, some of the best horses in America running on the under card on Friday and on Saturday, and we’ll be bringing all those races to you on NBC starting Thursday afternoon and then all of Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon, as well.
So, it’s a lot more than just the Derby for us.
JERRY BAILEY: I’ve come to Churchill Downs in a couple of different ways over the years. For 17 or 18 years I rode in the Kentucky Derby, and I always came here with optimism, but the reality was I knew that I probably wasn’t going to win. Out of 20 horses, there’s going to be 19 losers, and it’s such a hard race to win that you don’t get your hopes up. And sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s not.
But now as a broadcaster, and this is my 13th year coming to the Kentucky Derby behind the microphone, it’s always fun. It’s a lot of work, but I always end up at the end of the Kentucky Derby week having a great time and feeling like a winner.
In the years prior to this, we’ve had a lot of favorites. Coming off a year last year with the dominant Justify, and he was clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the field, and this year I think there’s a lot more parity. I can pick six, seven, maybe even eight horses that wouldn’t surprise me if they won. So it’s a deep and competitive field this year. It looks like we might get rain again, but in any event, there’s a lot of names in this race that could win.
LARRY COLLMUS: Thanks, Jerry. I’ve been calling the Derby now, this will be the ninth time for NBC Sports. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. But I’ve also been calling races in general for more than 34 years and more than 50,000 races, and there’s absolutely nothing in the world like calling the Kentucky Derby. It is absolutely the race. The thrill of 20 horses standing in the starting gate and you’re looking at them through your binoculars with sweaty palms in complete anticipation, there’s just no other feeling.
This year I think it’s really interesting, as Jerry alluded to, there’s really no standout favorite in the race. You have a lot of horses with a similar running that like to sit near the pace in the race. You’ve got Bob Baffert bringing three horses in here after winning the Triple Crown last year with Justify, looking for a sixth Kentucky Derby. There’s so many different angles to this year’s race, and you even have a horse from Japan coming in, which is pretty exciting, too, in Master Fencer.
But when they turn for home and it’s muddy and you’re looking at this group of horses with the jockey silks completely covered in mud and it’s your job to tell people who they are coming down the stretch, it is a bit of a daunting task, but it’s extremely exciting, and I wouldn’t want to switch with anybody. So I’m definitely looking forward to calling my ninth Derby on Saturday. Here’s Eddie Olczyk.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Larry, thank you very much. This will be my fifth Derby working with the best people and the best horse racing team there is. I always get super excited right around this time of year, but there is obviously a lot of prep work that goes on for everybody on this call and everybody on our team.
For me, still making my way through the NHL Playoffs on NBC and NBCSN family of networks, and that was for the last couple of weeks. I get the opportunity to jump off and handicap horses, which I would do whether I was here or not, full disclosure. And Jerry and Randy touched on it a tad; the depth of this field I would agree with Jerry 1,000 percent, that could make a case — depending on what happens with the weather on Saturday, you could make a case for six, seven, eight horses to win the Run For the Roses on Saturday.
So as a handicapper, I’ve got to have my sights on a couple of horses with a fast track, but I also have to have a game plan, and that’s what makes our team and our crew so great is that maybe the track is playing a certain way over the course of the two days, Friday, Saturday, with the Oaks and then of course Derby day. So I might have to have two sets of picks depending on if it’s a fast or off track.
That’s not out of the norm, but it is outside the box when you think about all of the different races that we are doing. So the work becomes, from at least just selfishly from my point of view, it becomes even deeper, and when you’re trying to make money for people – and thank you, Dan, for reminding everybody of how lucky I got last year – and I’ve had people remind me, don’t screw it up this year, make sure you get all three in the top three again, but that’s what makes this so challenging. I pick horses that are still running and sometimes you get lucky.
But I think that’s what makes it so unique is the pressure for these horses, the crowd, the excitement, the energy to be able to try to figure out who’s going to cross that wire first, and there are a lot of hurdles you have to try to overcome when you’re handicapping a 20-horse field with three-year-olds that have never been this distance before, and a lot of them will probably never travel this distance again.
It is great to be back, and I am doing some hockey prep work on my nights trying to dissect the racing form and also keep an eye on the NHL Playoffs, which are absolutely heating up.
And one last thing is Mike Tirico had said a couple hundred miles apart, the Indy 500 and the Kentucky Derby, if anybody needs a place to stay, you can stay with my father-in-law in Columbus, Indiana, which is pretty much halfway in between Indy and Louisville. I’m sure Thomas Vickers wouldn’t mind a few people shacking up at his house in Columbus, Indiana.
Q. Mike, just wondering if you knew Jerry and Randy while they were at ESPN and just working with them for the past couple years, what is it like kind of having them bring you up to speed on everything?
MIKE TIRICO: I did know them just a little bit but never worked with them. I really was never around them that much but knew that everyone who worked on our Triple Crown shows there had the highest praise. There was a producer that I worked with named Mike McQuade, who also worked on horse racing. He worked with me on the golf and tennis coverage, and Mike spoke so highly of Randy and Jerry, and everything that everyone has said about them is true. They finish each other’s sentences and thoughts. They are not afraid to disagree with each other. They are very great about welcoming any of us who have come to the team new over the last few years, so any questions or introducing us to the people in the sport who they’ve made friends with over the years, and it’s the greatest comfort for a host to be able to sit there and look to either your left or right, depending on the set, and know that there’s nothing you can ask those guys that they are not ready to answer. And they do it on a regular basis, and that allows me to be maybe representative of the fan who’s sitting and watching and might just have a casual question. I can throw it to them at any time, and they’ve got the answer. It’s a pleasure to work with pros like these two guys. And that’s exactly what they told me to say if asked that question.
Q. Rob, go ahead and detail a couple of those technical innovations that you mentioned there for this year.
ROB HYLAND: Sure. To begin, we’ve added a super slow-motion camera on the finish line pole of the main track, the Kentucky Derby finish. That camera can then pan around and document the finish on the wire for all turf races, as well. It’s a more intimate look than our typical super slo-mo profile finish, but it will definitely adjudicate a finish as a 6x super motion camera. It’s a Fletcher camera. And we’re really excited about having another look at the finish of all of these major races, as Randy documented, over the next few days.
Something a little more fun, we’ve introduced a 360-degree glam cam for our red carpet that Dylan Dreyer and Von Miller will host, allowing fans and celebrities to step inside this device and have their outfit and selection for this year’s Derby documented in this dramatic 360-degree camera environment, and it gets pushed automatically to their social media handles within seconds. You may see that technology frequently on awards shows like the Academy Awards.
And more than anything, this day and this event is so much bigger than just the 150,000 celebrating here at Churchill Downs. All around the country there are Kentucky Derby parties taking place, and we thought this year, we should welcome in some of those parties and check in on them. So we’ll have four live remotes active all day long, one happening in Las Vegas at a Kentucky Derby party, another one happening in Denver, Colorado, one happening at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and a fourth party in New York City, just to showcase that this day is so much bigger than just here at Churchill Downs, just here in Louisville. It is a nationwide party. We’re going to welcome in those inbound feeds.
Those are a few of the enhancements that we’re excited about. I mentioned the paddock set, and the fact that we’re actually moving Mike, Jerry and Randy on a very complicated day, 30 segments, 16 announcers, 50 cameras, and going to try moving them through the sea of people in the middle of the show. So fingers crossed that all goes well. But those are just a few of them.
Q. It was just a couple days after the Belmont last year that New Jersey legalized sports gambling. I’m just curious from a production standpoint, obviously the odds and betting have always been a huge part of this telecast, but when you’re in the truck, are you guys going to be leaning in any more? I know you’re doing a special digital companion show to the side, but from your perspective how does that change things?
ROB HYLAND: Yeah, one of the takeaways I had from watching last year’s Derby show on NBC is that I don’t think we give Eddie Olczyk enough time to really explain his selections and why he’s making those selections. So we really want to give Eddie more time throughout the entire day to educate, entertain and inform the casual viewer on what goes into his decision making and give some more time to the betting in our show to have a few back-and-forths between Mike, Jerry and Randy. And then so that Edzo is not on an island, before the race for a minute, we’re going to have some dialogue that hopefully invites and engages a casual audience at home.
Q. Jerry said there’s six to eight horses that wouldn’t surprise you. Can you say who you like? And who are your top three?
JERRY BAILEY: Obviously Omaha Beach will be one of the favorites. He just beat Game Winner, so Game Winner will be up there, as well. Roadster and Improbable, two of the other three Baffert horses. Win Win Win wouldn’t shock me, and Tacitus would be probably a pretty good chance, as well as Maximum Security. I think that’s — is that eight?
EDDIE OLCZYK: Listen, I would add Code of Honor, regardless of track conditions, meaning whether it’s fast or the track is off a bit. I would certainly add Code of Honor in my top three regardless of the track condition, and I’m right around with Jerry with the other horses, as well.
RANDY MOSS: I can also add Vekoma in there, as well, since I’m not sure how fast the pace is going to be. I think he could control the pace conceivably.
JERRY BAILEY: So that’s nine right there. That’s how wide open it is.
Q. Eddie, last year was impressive. What’s your trifecta this year?
EDDIE OLCZYK: I don’t want to take the Fifth right now, but I think I have to because I have no idea where we’re going to be as far as the weather, so I’m going to wait for, again, my opportunity for five minutes with Dylan Dreyer to see what the forecast will be. So that’s why you have to tune in about 30 minutes prior to the post of the Kentucky Derby at 6:52 eastern on Saturday night on NBC. I might change probably 10 different times, but we’re going to try to do what we did last year.
JERRY BAILEY: To Eddie’s point, the track conditions, regardless of what they are, there could be biases and patterns that become evident through the day, which Eddie will be watching, Randy and I will be watching, so it could be very speedy, the inside could be better than the outside. We don’t know until we get through that day.
Q. Who in this field has won in the mud? And then I guess the second part is who is really bred for it, like really a freak in the mud?
EDDIE OLCZYK: Well, the favorite, Omaha Beach, has proven — I think he moves way up on an off track. I would say in my opinion, I think Omaha Beach is this year’s version of Exaggerator, where if you remember Exaggerator a couple of years ago really moved up a lot and really enjoyed and relished the off track. I would compare Omaha Beach to Exaggerator when it comes to running on an off track. I think if it’s an off track, I would be really, really surprised if he did not win if the track comes up sloppy or muddy on Saturday.
RANDY MOSS: And War Of Will, Maximum and Cutting Humor have also won on racetracks that were sloppy or muddy.
Q. This question is for Mike Tirico. Mike, as you sit in that chair on Saturday, how much will any memories of the great Bob Costas, the studio phenom who had been so associated with the Kentucky Derby all these years, and even Tom Hammond, who had thoroughbred racing in his blood?
MIKE TIRICO: If you don’t mind me adding a third to that, Jim McKay, as well. One of the great thrills for me working at ABC back in the ’90s when I got started was to cover the British Open golf with Jim, and some of our conversations certainly included all the times he spent hosting the Triple Crown races.
Tom and I spent a good time two years ago in South Korea at the Olympics, the Winter Games, talking about what horse racing means and what this day means to the state and to the sport, and doing this with Bob over the last couple years is the same to add to the conversation. Bob has been a friend and a mentor for a long time and has always been someone who I’ve looked up to personally and professionally. So all three of those folks have put this in an incredible column of an honor to be one of the people in the chair hosting the Kentucky Derby, and I just hope to continue the great work that they’ve done on this event over the years.
And I think it means a lot to me because as a kid growing up watching Wide World of Sports, I remember watching the Kentucky Derby. It was one of those, wow, that’s really something, and for a kid growing up in New York, not around horse racing as much as I would have been if I was here in Kentucky, it resonated with me then and still resonates with me now.
I don’t take that lightly, and I take that legacy very close to heart as we go out there on Saturday.