Thursday, January 26, 2017
DAN MASONSON: Good afternoon, everybody, and thank you for joining us on today’s NBC Sports conference call. This Saturday at 4:30 p.m. eastern, NBC will present the first-ever running of the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational, the world’s richest horse race.
Joining us on today’s call are the host of Saturday’s show, Mike Tirico; our Hall-of-Fame jockey and analyst Jerry Bailey; our analyst Randy Moss; and our analyst/handicapper Eddie Olczyk, who will be on our Pegasus show before flying across the country to Los Angeles to call the NHL All-Star Game with Doc Emrick less than 24 hours later at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday at NBC.
Also with us is coordinating producer of NBC’s horse racing coverage, Rob Hyland. With that, I’ll throw it to the guys for some opening comments before taking your questions. Rob, why don’t you kick us off.
ROB HYLAND: Thanks, Dan. We’re all really excited to be a part of the very first running of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational. Over the course of the 90-minute broadcast on NBC, we’ll document an incredible race, featuring California Chrome competing for the final time in the field of 11 other horses, including Arrogate, who beat him in his last outing. We’re in for a great race, and I’ll let Jerry and Randy speak to the race itself.
We’re also going to showcase that this event is much more than just a great race. It is a major sporting event, featuring celebrities, lifestyle segments, and even a live performance by Grammy-nominated country artist Thomas Rhett. I’m really proud of what NBC has done to make events like the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup even bigger, and I’m confident that we’re going to do the same with this event on Saturday.
With that, I’ll turn it over to the guys.
MIKE TIRICO: It’s great to be with everyone, great to be on the call. Thanks for your time. There’s nothing like an event to hit in the right spot. You think about where we are on the sports calendar, with the week in between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl in the NFL, you’ve got All-Star Games for the NFL and the NHL. It’s really an opportunity for horse racing to grab some fans, bring them into the tent, if you will, and enjoy what this sport is all about. Not only do you have a great setting and, as was mentioned, the largest purse we’ve ever had for a race, but you also have two terrific horses coming off an incredible experience at the Breeders’ Cup that we were all lucky to be a part of in November.
All the ingredients are there for a lot of fun, and I’m just thrilled to be with all these guys to share with America on Saturday afternoon. With that, I’ll turn it over to Jerry.
JERRY BAILEY: The old saying, if you build it, they will come. Well, they built a Pegasus statue that’s over 100 feet tall, and now they have matched it was a purse of $12 million, and they came. The best two dirt horses in the world, Arrogate and California Chrome, a rematch that I’ve been looking forward to for a couple of months now. There’s other exciting horses in the race, but it boils down to these two horses, and there’s like razor thin margin between the two. I really wouldn’t give a definite edge to one or the other. It should be as exciting a race as we had in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall at Santa Anita.
RANDY MOSS: Two of the big problems in thoroughbred racing over the modern history of the sport, one has been a lack of fresh, new, compelling ideas, and two has been the tendency of star racehorses to retire to stud prematurely. Now this race comes along, and it’s a fantastic new idea that has really hit a home run in its first year by getting these two horses.
Secondly, you have California Chrome, who if not for this race would be right now hanging out at a stud farm in Kentucky. They’re going to run him at least one more time. This is almost certainly his swan song, and if not for this race, we wouldn’t get to see him run again, and what a fantastic rematch it’s going to be between these two horses.
In the Breeders’ Cup the first Saturday in November, they teamed up for probably one of the three or four best duel performances in the history of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and that’s what makes the rematch so much fun.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Great to be a part of this historic event. With what Rob and Mike and Jerry and Randy have said, you have two of the elite horses that we have in the world on the same stage going for the biggest pot, and you see owners putting their money where their mouths are, and that to me is what makes this so intriguing. You have people taking a shot, and that’s what horse racing is all about. You’ve got an opportunity, you have a starting gate, and we all know, and we’ve seen it, we’ve seen it on the biggest stages, and Jerry can speak to it better than anybody else, is you just don’t know what’s going to happen when that gate opens.
I think there are some horses sitting on some big races, but there’s no doubt it’s between the first horse, Arrogate, and the 12 horse, California Chrome, and it’s a great race card. I’ve scoured through it a handful of times in the last three or four days, and it’s going to be an outstanding day of horse racing capped off by the Pegasus.
I hope that we can see Jerry up on that big statue at some point of course on Saturday.
Q. My question is for Jerry. I know you were at the barn with Chrome a few days ago, and obviously before the draw, I’m just curious how much you think being on the outside and that very short run obviously into the turn, is that a big — that would be a big worry for a lot of horses. Is Chrome so good that he’s going to overcome that, or should it be a big worry for Chrome and his connections?
JERRY BAILEY: Well, it’s not great. I’ll say that right off the bat. But I think it’s less of a problem for a horse like Chrome than any other horse. First of all, he’s accomplished about anything a racehorse could.
Second of all, that’s his running style anyway. I think the 12 hurts him far less than potentially the 1 could hurt Arrogate if things didn’t go well. But, he’s got to break well, number one, and if he does, I think without too much extra effort, he’s going to get a stalking position no worse than third going into the first turn, maybe three paths wide. That’s the trip I think Victor (Espinoza) would want if he was drawn post 7, let’s say. So no, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker for California Chrome.
EDDIE OLCZYK: I just want to add to what Jerry was talking about there. I think looking at this race and wanting to pick the brain of a Hall of Famer like Jerry Bailey, you have some speed horses obviously to the inside with California Chrome. I don’t know if there’s anybody in there that is faster than California Chrome. But do the horses — and this is a question that I ask as a handicapper in looking at this race, is does Johnny Velazquez stay in that 3 path if he can get a good break out of the gate? Does Julien Leparoux on Noble Bird, does he stay in that 4 path and try to float out any other speed that might be coming on the outside? The Reade Baker horse, Breaking Lucky, looks sharp right now and has run some of his best races being close. I’m not saying these horses can out-kick California Chrome, but all of a sudden there’s — the question that I have is, are these riders riding California Chrome on the outside and saying, look, if he is going to send or if he is going to use what he has early to try to get position, do we race ride? Do we float him out?
And that to me as a handicapper, that’s what I’m looking at in how I’m trying to break down the race, is do these horses and do these riders ride these horses and say, look, okay, if he is going to ride that way and be aggressive, then he is going to have to be five wide, six wide on that first turn. We know he can run a mile and a quarter. We understand that, and this is a shorter race. But that’s how I look at this with that post position 12, and I think it might end up being a bigger hindrance than anything else if those riders float California Chrome out five and six wide on that first turn.
That’s what I would be wondering as somebody watching or somebody handicapping the race. Does it become a jockey’s race because of the out of the gate and quickly to that first turn going a mile and an eighth?
JERRY BAILEY: Well, if Arrogate wasn’t in there, yeah, that would be a great strategy, but they have to make it as hard on Arrogate as they do on California Chrome, and you’re not going to give Arrogate the golden path by staying wide and giving him a free ride at the rail.
EDDIE OLCZYK: But you don’t think that Arrogate is quicker than those other horses, do you?
JERRY BAILEY: No, but you’ve got to throw dirt in his face, and you’re not going to do that from the 3 path. You need to drop over to the rail.
RANDY MOSS: That’s the thing about the strategy that these opposing trainers have, okay. They think there’s a greater benefit in trapping Arrogate behind them and kicking dirt in his face than they do about floating California Chrome wide. They have a big question mark as to whether Arrogate will be able to handle that. They want to make sure and try to put him in that position if they can.
JERRY BAILEY: And during the course of the show, that dirt-in-the-face element, there’s a little more to it than in face value, so we’ll get into that in the show.
Q. Jerry, this might be best served to you. It’s kind of the perfect timing; we’re a couple months removed from Breeders’ Cup, a couple months before Dubai, the preps haven’t really started yet. NFL has a bye this weekend unless you count the Pro Bowl. How much — we don’t know yet, but how much can racing benefit just from something like this, just from having something new and something big? What do you think the long-term benefit can be for the sport from this?
JERRY BAILEY: Well, this is a great first step, and I guess that’s to be determined. But Randy and I were talking to Tim Ritvo, the COO of the Stronach Group, and this is a great first step. If racing could implement maybe one more, then you’d have a $12 million race, and then at the end of March you’d have the Dubai race at $10 million and maybe throw something in at Saratoga, let’s say $6, $8 million, and then the Breeders’ Cup at $6 million. I think the massive amount of money, even with a Triple Crown-type bonus tied into that of $10 or $15 million of some sort, that would keep the great horses maybe from retiring and keep them active. I think that is what will draw the national attention and make people tune in in a time that they normally wouldn’t.
Normally, people that just watch three or four racing events a year don’t start thinking about horse racing until the end of April, as golfers think about the Masters in April. So yeah, this is a great first step in making our fan base an even an at-arm’s-length fan base earlier in the year.
MIKE TIRICO: There’s nothing in sports that brings people to the table like the best in the game playing for a big prize, especially when they put on a great head-to-head match-up. Team sports or individual sports, you name it, you can think of them, and this provides that. So if this is ever going to work as a concept and be another tent pole in the racing season in a place where you didn’t have these type of races and can keep the best horses involved in the game a little bit longer, every possible ingredient is here to have that happen.
So this is a really great opportunity, and I think beyond race fans, just sports fans in general, you get to the table when you say, hey, we’ve got the best, we’ve got the biggest purse. Wow, that’ll make me stop and pay attention to the racing Saturday. So I hope it works out.
RANDY MOSS: We were told today by Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Farm, who is the co-owner of California Chrome, that if there was just one more of these races on the calendar, he wouldn’t be going to stud, he’d be running one more year. They could actually make more money racing him than they could retiring him to stud. Maybe in the future we’ll see more things like that happen.
Q. It’s the first year of this event; can you outline for fans what they should expect?
JERRY BAILEY: Well, it’s amazing that right off the jump, the first running that we have two horses so close in talent. One was the horse of the year, California Chrome, and Arrogate was just voted the best horse in the world. Bob Baffert just got back from London to receive that award.
It’s hard to imagine the first running of something that you’d get two of the very best, as Mike pointed out, right off the bat, so I think just in that regard, it’s amazing.
Q. My question is also kind of general. We’ve talked about California Chrome and his career. What do you think his impact has been on the sport overall?
RANDY MOSS: Well, he’s a great feel-good story. Horse racing gets those periodically, and California Chrome has been a real compelling type horse, a real rags-to-riches horse, very easy to root for, as long as his owners don’t go off the rails. The horse himself is just a really cool horse who’s got a flashy appearance. He’s got a flashy running style. He almost won the Triple Crown, so he got a lot of fan support back when he was a three-year-old, and now here he is in what’s probably the last race of his career. He’s been an extremely popular horse throughout his career, and that’s good for the sport, as Mike said earlier, to keep these horses running as long as possible.
ROB HYLAND: From a television standpoint, the Belmont Stakes that California Chrome ran in back in 2014 was the second highest Belmont Stakes on record behind Smarty Jones, so he had an appeal to the masses, and it was tangible in the crowds and with the people watching.
Q. This is probably for Jerry. Just thinking about how much money is on the line here, if you’re putting yourself in the mindset of a jockey, and obviously there’s tons of big races, but knowing that you’ve got this record amount of money on the line, does it weigh on your mind at all, could it affect any of these guys out there and how they’re going to approach the race?
JERRY BAILEY: Well, it’s funny you ask that. We were talking to Bob Baffert this morning about jockeys and who he’s comfortable with and who he sleeps better at night having on his horse, and he referred to Mike Smith, whose nickname is “Big Money Mike.” He said guys like that, and I will totally agree with the statement, they’re used to being in the big spot. They’re loose about it. They’re concentrated and they’re focused, but they’re used to being there, and any time you get a top athlete that is used to being in the big spot, you can count on a top performance, and I don’t think it’s any different with jockeys.