MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s conference call previewing NBC Sports group’s coverage of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which culminates this Saturday, October 31, at 4 p.m. ET on NBC as American Pharoah runs to complete the “Grand Slam” in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
We’re pleased to be joined today by the following members of our on air team: Our host Tom Hammond, Hall of Fame jockey and five-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Jerry Bailey, analyst Randy Moss, analyst handicapper tandem of Bob Neumeier and Eddie Olczyk, race caller Larry Collmus, and our coordinating producer Rob Hyland. We’ll ask each for an opening comment before taking your questions, and as he’s at the airport en route to Lexington, we’ll begin with our race caller Larry Collmus.
LARRY COLLMUS: I’m very excited about this Breeders’ Cup. It’s going to be the fourth one that I’ve done for NBC, and I think it’s probably the most exciting one for a couple of reasons: One of which is the location of the race at Keeneland, a place that I really have never had a chance to go to until last year, and then I went a bunch of times when I was calling races at Churchill Downs. I went over to Keeneland to visit for not only the racing, but the terrific place it really is. Just so much history, just a beautiful facility in a great sports town and of course, the home of thoroughbred breeding and horse racing, and it’s just going to be a perfect setting for the Breeders’ Cup, and I can’t wait for that.
The other thing, of course, that makes this so exciting is American Pharoah and the last race of his career. I’ve sort of gone through the whole year with him. I feel like he and I are good friends now, having called the Triple Crown win, the first one we’ve seen in 37 years, following him to Monmouth Park to watch him win the Haskell, and then to Saratoga where he was defeated by Keen Ice despite running an absolutely fantastic race. It was at Saratoga that I got to finally meet American Pharoah and hang out with him and get my picture taken. It was a really cool experience to be with such a legendary race horse, and to be able to call his last race is going to be an amazing thing, in addition to the other 12 Breeders’ Cup races, which are always outstanding. It’s just going to be great.
TOM HAMMOND: Well, hello, everybody, and this has been an epic year for covering horse racing for sure because of the Triple Crown, the first one in 37 years, and this Breeders’ Cup, I think, will be very special for a lot of reasons. It’s a return to the Breeders’ Cup roots. John Gaines, the late John Gaines of Gainesway Farm, developed the concept for the Breeders’ Cup, a year-end championship that horse racing was lacking. This is the 32nd edition and the first time it’s been held right where John Gaines dreamt up the idea.
This community is embracing the Breeders’ Cup like no community ever has, and of course Keeneland has spent $5 million in improvements to host the Breeders’ Cup. I think it’s going to be very special.
The horse is special. Kentucky has people that appreciate horses and good horses especially, so that makes it special, and of course with the horses themselves, many of them, most of them will be competing just a few furlongs from where they were born. So it’s a return to their roots, as well.
I think we have a potential of being the greatest Breeders’ Cup ever. We’ll see Golden Horn, who is arguably the best horse in the world, winner of the Epsom Derby and the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, the Classic, I think on paper anyway, is the greatest we’ve ever had is not only American Pharoah in his final race but Beholder taking on the boys, which she is undefeated this year, and of course trounced the boys by a large margin, seven and a half lengths in the Pacific Classic at Delmar.
In addition, you have Honor Code, who has been terrific, winning the Whitney and the Met Mile, and you have, of course, Tonalist, last year’s Belmont Stakes winner; Keen Ice who defeated Pharoah in the Travers. So all the ingredients are there for the greatest Classic in the 32 year history of the Breeders’ Cup.
JERRY BAILEY: I’m glad to be here. To dovetail off of what Tom said, this is a unique place. So many of these horses are bred here, foaled here. Many of them are sold at auction here, and then a lot of them come back to race here. And it’s also unique in the fact that Lexington has really no pro sports franchise, so Keeneland is their franchise, and the fans come out and support racing here like you cannot believe. I can remember coming here for the first time, and typically after a race when you come back, the crowd cheers the winner. I finished seventh or eighth my first race, and they were cheering all the losing jockeys when you come back here. So the fans are enthusiastic whether you win or you lose.
And talking about great fans, young people come here dressed to the nines. This is an event is not just a race, this is an event for people at Keeneland, and the crowd couldn’t be better for the people participating in it.
RANDY MOSS: I could say essentially the same things that Tom and Jerry said, not as well, but Keeneland has always been on my bucket list of racetracks. I’ve always told friends of mine that are racing fans and even just marginal fans that Keeneland was definitely a must that they should try to get to at some point. So I’m excited about the Breeders’ Cup being here, excited about American Pharoah, excited about the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
From a narrow perspective looking at this as a broadcast and as a job, it is easily the most daunting week of preparation that we have each year. I mean, Jerry and I are literally buried in paperwork. 175 different horses running, and trying to learn things about every owner, trainer, jockey, pedigree, watching videos and things like that make it a real challenge from a broadcast perspective. But it’s one that we embrace and enjoy because it’s one of the most fun weekends of racing, maybe the most fun weekend of racing, this and the Kentucky Derby that we do.
BOB NEUMEIER: Where has the time gone? I would say I’m celebrating my 25th year, count them, 25 years with NBC on horse racing in this event. I missed a couple. We missed a couple. I know that ESPN/ABC had it for a few years. Last year I was ill and could not make the trip to the Breeders’ Cup, but I’m a guy who has a lot of hats here. You know, I’m a fan for sure. I’m a reporter. I’m a TV guy and I’m a handicapper.
I look at this, and I look at American Pharoah, and I’ve said this before, and the fan in me says, I hope he wins, even though this is his last time around the track. I know it’s good for racing. I know it’s great for the sport. I know it’s great for NBC. The reporter in me says, Well, let’s see what happens. You try and play it by the book, you try to be neutral, and you really make an effort to do that.
The handicapper part of me says, you’ve got to go another way. I’m a contrarian handicapper, there’s no doubt about that. We always brag about our scores, and I know when he was upset in the Travers Stakes I made a lot of money on that late pick four because Keen Ice beat him at the wire, but that’s what we do; we brag about our wins and we lament our losses, but that’s what we do. The event itself is fantastic. I’m glad it’s at Keeneland because it’s, you know, it’s the championship of racing. It’s the Derby times 13 for handicappers everywhere. They’re into this big time, as am I, and I know I’m going to make every effort both as a fan, as a reporter and as a handicapper to do the best I can.
EDDIE OLCZYK: It’s great to be back for my second Breeders’ Cup with the great team at NBC. You not only have the best horses in the world, the best jocks, the best trainers, but you also have, I believe, the best horse racing team on television, and to be a part of that, I’m thrilled and honored and privileged to be here. Neumy touched on it; lots of wagering opportunities for handicappers and for horse players. If you have an opinion, you know, you’re going to get value. I think you have to have conviction on a weekend like we’re going to have here at Keeneland.
For me, I was here on Fall Stars weekend, and that was the first time I’ve taken in live racing at Keeneland, and I was overwhelmed as a horse person, as a horse guy, as a horse player, and obviously as a broadcaster, to be right in the center of horse racing country.
It’s great to be here, great to be a part of the weekend, and I’m wearing a couple of different hats this weekend. Most importantly I’m wearing that NBC broadcast hat, but also, which I can’t believe, I’m also here as an owner. I have a piece of the horse called Raise the Bar that’s running in the Two Year Old Turf on Friday. So to be here and to have a horse taking part in this weekend, I’m certainly thrilled and looking forward to a great weekend, and really proud to be here.
ROB HYLAND: On June 6, 2015, all of the NBC Sports horse racing team had the privilege of covering American Pharoah’s Triple Crown win at Belmont. It’s a day that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives. We were very lucky to be a part of that moment in June, and I think we’re extremely fortunate to be able to cover his last race on Saturday, the $5 million Classic.
We’re all ready for this event. We’ve got every angle of the Classic covered, and we’re excited for this weekend to get started.
My question is for Larry. You all touched on this, and Larry did right from the get go, talking about visiting Keeneland for the first time but now getting to call a race there and you combine it with the fact that you’ve got the Breeders’ Cup and an iconic horse in American Pharoah, Larry, calling this race and calling the weekend, what is that going to mean at such a place like this, at the convergence of thoroughbreds and such a great place?
LARRY COLLMUS: Well, it’s going to be fantastic. I’m certainly looking forward to it, and from the perspective of being at Keeneland for the first time last year but never having called a race in fact, Keeneland is unique in that it had no track announcer actually before 1997, and Kurt Becker, who is their track announcer, is the only one they’ve ever had. Not too many people have even called races at Keeneland. I’m certainly looking forward to being one of the few people who have had that opportunity.
But yeah, as far as Keeneland goes, it’s actually a bit of a challenge for me, too, because it’s going to be the first time we’ve had a Breeders’ Cup with two different finish lines. Three of the races finish a 16th of a mile ahead of the regular finish line, so that’s a bit of a challenge for me because I’ll probably have to call the end of the race off of the monitor because of where my booth location is, but I’ve done that at other tracks in the past, so it’s not a first.
But you know, I think the most exciting thing about it is obviously the Classic itself and it being American Pharoah’s last race and having so much great competition in there like Beholder, like Keen Ice, who beat him last time, like Tonalist, who took a Triple Crown away from California Chrome the year before, and like Honor Code, who has been so spectacular in his career. I think it’s going to be a great way to cap off what could be the best Breeders’ Cup ever.
Tom and Jerry, what do you think American Pharoah’s legacy is going to be? He’s already won the Triple Crown. Does he really need to win this race to cement it, or has he already made his history?
TOM HAMMOND: I think he’s already earned the title of great by winning the Triple Crown, only the 12th horse to ever do it and the first in 37 years. Is he one of the greatest of all time? I think he needs to win the Classic to enter that hallowed ground. He needs to beat older horses for the first time. He needs to beat a field the quality of this one. I think we can call him great by virtue of winning the Triple Crown. Is he one of the greatest to join those, the few that we call the greatest of all time? That remains to be seen.
JERRY BAILEY: I would agree with Tom on those points, but I think as time goes by, no matter how he runs in the Classic, if he wins, everybody is going to talk about the only horse, at least at this time, that’s won the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but if he happens not to win, 10 years from now, I think people are going to speak about American Pharoah, about the Triple Crown winner, not the fact that he was beaten at Travers, or if he is beaten in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but he will be remembered for the first Triple Crown in 37 years, and rightly so.
JERRY BAILEY: I’m picking American Pharoah. I think he’s training great. I think Bob Baffert wouldn’t bring him unless he thought he was on top of his game, and I think the advantage of controlling the pace will be what he needs to win, so yeah, I like his chances.
For the others, do you have any opinion?
TOM HAMMOND: I like his chances, as well, and I agree with what Jerry said. I don’t think Bob Baffert would bring him here if he weren’t ready and at the top of his game. I think Beholder is going to be awfully tough. If you take a look at her, she sure doesn’t look like a mare. She’s big and powerful and strong, and of course the other horses in there are all capable, as well. Honor Code, I’ve loved his races all year long. It won’t be easy, but I know my heart may be picking in front of my brain, but I like American Pharoah, as well.
RANDY MOSS: I think if you were going to assign percentage chances of winning to each horse in the Classic that given the fact that American Pharoah is almost certainly going to control the pace, you would have to give him a slightly higher percentage chance, but I don’t think from a betting perspective he’s worth the 6:5 that he is in the morning line. I think Beholder has a much better chance than the morning line, although the think the line is accurate. I think that’s the way the public will bet. I think Beholder has a much better chance of winning than the 6:5 versus 3:1 would indicate.
While I think American Pharoah has the edge, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see him lose.
BOB NEUMEIER: The Classic is a great race, and because we’ve got the Triple Crown winner, we’ve got a fantastic filly in Beholder, a mare; we’ve got hard hitters like Tonalist and Honor Code in the mix, all with different styles. So the odds board and the trophy is going to tell everything about this story, and I think that my senses tell me that American Pharoah will be bet off the board because people love this guy. And why not? He’s won all three.
But again, the handicapper in me comes out and says, no, uh uh, this is not right. I look at Tonalist at 6 or 8:1 in the morning line and I say this guy as is good as anybody, if I’m betting and putting my money down and I want to get the best bang for my buck that I can. So in my world, Tonalist is No. 1, Honor Code is No. 2, Pharoah is No. 3, and Beholder, who’s the filly, might be No. 4 because she’s had a little glitch in her armor because she’s had a little trouble with traveling and the flu, and I think at the Breeders’ Cup you’ve got to be at your top, so I’d put her at 4. So the handicapper in me says Tonalist.
EDDIE OLCZYK: We’re a handful of days out, and as anybody that plays the horses, you want to see leading up to it, Neumy touched on Beholder and how the horses are going into the weekend, and how is the track playing; how has the surface been playing to horses that have been close to the lead or speed-saving horses, or has it been kind to horses that come off the pace. You know, American Pharoah certainly looks like on paper, as Randy touched on, as going to dictate the terms.
But for me, it’s a little ways out. I’m not a chalk player. I’m not a favorite player. But on a day like Saturday, or Friday for that matter, the odds board will certainly tell, and if you like a horse, sometimes you have to take what the public and what the track is giving you.
If I was going into the race right now, I would probably lean towards Beholder because of the price of American Pharoah, but things can certainly change. That’s why sometimes we’re like Peyton Manning; we call “Omaha” and there’s a change a couple of minutes before. But right now I’m in the Beholder camp, but let’s see how she is in the next couple of days.
Rob, this is obviously an enormously high profile Breeders’ Cup. Can you talk a little bit about some extra production elements that I would assume you guys are adding with American Pharoah in the running there, and also any story lines that you’re going to try to cover of the track in terms of highlighting specific features since it’s obviously been a huge story line going into the race?
ROB HYLAND: Sure. In terms of the production elements, you know, we’ve added a significant number of cameras. There’s a camera dedicated to American Pharoah essentially all day on Saturday, an RF handheld that’ll follow his every move from his barn to the holding assembly barn, to the paddock and obviously to the track.
We have two ultra-slow motion cameras on the finish line, a super slow motion camera on the finish line. Those are adds from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. We have an aerial for all races on Saturday. We have a tower camera, 100 feet in the air in Turn 2, to capture the horses going around Turn 2. It’s a similar camera that we have in the Triple Crown races.
Our levels have increased to capture this year’s Classic and all of the Breeders’ Cup races, and obviously Pharoah is a functional part of that.
In terms of the track and its nooks and crannies, we will showcase all that makes Keeneland so special, including essentially a red stop sign on the alternate finish line that Larry Collmus spoke of earlier to alert the jocks that certain races end on that alternate finish line.
We will endeavor to showcase all that makes Keeneland a unique racetrack and capture all of the races with a very robust camera complement.