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Tuesday, May 2, 2023

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today’s NBC Sports Kentucky Derby conference call. This Saturday, May 6th, at Noon Eastern, we’ll present 7.5 hours of live Kentucky Derby coverage on NBC and Peacock, which marks the most hours ever on broadcast TV for a horse racing event.

On today’s call, we’re joined by Lindsay Schanzer, our senior producer of horse racing on the Kentucky Derby; Mike Tirico, our Kentucky Derby host; analyst Jerry Bailey, a two-time Derby winner, who won his first 30 years ago on Sea Hero; analyst Randy Moss, covering his 43rd Derby; handicapper Eddie Olczyk; our insights analyst from NBC News, Steve Kornacki; and our race caller, Larry Collmus.

With that, I’ll turn it over to Lindsay Schanzer.

LINDSAY SCHANZER: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the 149th Kentucky Derby. We appreciate you joining us.

This is my 11th year working on the Kentucky Derby production for NBC. Thrilled to be in my second year producing. Once again, I’m lucky to be working with the best announce team out there. I wanted to give you a sense of how we line up for this year.

Mike Tirico, who you’ll hear from, is back to host for us. Ahmed Fareed will host the other part of the broadcast, as well as serving as a reporter throughout the coverage. Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey, who are here as well, are our analysts. Reporters Kenny Rice, Britney Eurton, and Nick Luck will roam around the grounds. Donna Brothers on horseback. Handicappers Eddie Olczyk and Matt Bernier join us this year. Steve Kornacki is back as our insights analyst.

Matthew Berry will join the Kentucky Derby for his first time, very excited. Rebecca Lowe is back. Dale Earnhardt as well rejoins us. He’s going to explore a lot of strategy and different elements around the racetrack to pique his curiosity. Dylan Dreyer returns. She’s joining us with Sanya Richards-Ross to cover all things fashion and red carpet. And Larry Collmus, our race announcer, who again is on this call.

Just a couple notes from me: We’re one year removed from what I consider the absolute thrill of Rich Strike becoming the second longest shot in the history of the Derby to wear the roses. After a string of unpredictable Derby days, we know full well that anything can happen on the first Saturday in May. I think I speak for everyone when I say we can’t wait to find out what this year has in store.

We’ve got a really special show planned with some great elements to look forward to. I want to give you a couple of highlights. One that I’m pretty excited about – Jerry will tell you more – but Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomed Jerry Bailey to his house last week to talk strategy, racing strategy between the jockey and the race car driver. They had a ton to talk about. We’re going to show you a little bit of that.

We’ve got a feature on an undercard horse this year, Cody’s Wish, and a really special story between that horse and his namesake, Cody Dorman.

A special recognition of the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown win. Tune in, you won’t want to miss that one.

And a couple of Derby related stories, just the highlights. We spent Sunday night dinner with Mike Repole and his family. Mike Repole owns the likely favorite Forte. And spent some time with Brad Cox, Louisville born trainer, the first Louisville born trainer to win the Kentucky Derby, although he did so following a disqualification and never really got his moment in the winner’s circle. So we spent some time chatting with him.

I mentioned Matthew Berry is here for the first time. He had a lot to learn about betting horses, and he took a lighthearted approach to teaching the audience how to bet the horses for his first Derby. We hope that will make you smile and learn a little bit.

In addition to covering fashion, we will have extended red carpet coverage throughout the broadcast, with 7.5 hours starting at Noon ET on NBC and Peacock. We really are in the swing of things when the red carpet is getting going between Noon and 2 p.m. ET. Lots of coverage from down there.

Incredible stories as always making up this field of 20. We can’t wait to bring it all to you. I’ll send it over to Mike Tirico to tell you what he’s excited about.

MIKE TIRICO: Hi, Lindsay. I’ll be brief so we can save our time for questions with everyone. We have a great team. It’s a pleasure and an honor to work with the entire group of men and women who Lindsay just listed who are on the broadcast. We have a great leader as well. Lindsay producing last year’s Derby led us to be ready for an unbelievable all-time sports memory with Rich Strike making that late comeback.

I’m proud of our whole team. The Kentucky Derby from last year was honored by our peers with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Live Special with things like the Winter Olympics, the World Cup Final, the Super Bowl, and the World Series. It speaks to the great stories the Derby gives, our great team, and Lindsay’s leadership as well.

I get to cover a bunch of great events, and this is one of my favorites because it’s one of the most unique challenges in sports. We’re talking for the seven hours; everyone from the hard-core horse player, the handicappers, to the people who wait and watch just one horse race a year. It all kind of comes together with interesting celebrities around it.

Everything from the E! Red Carpet show to the Today Show to other great horse racing shows. I love sitting next to Randy and Jerry and picking their brains and making folks money and making them smile along the way.

With that, I turn it over to the best race caller in the business in Larry Collmus.

LARRY COLLMUS: Thank you very much, Mike. I’m just a few minutes away from boarding my flight to Louisville. Excited to be with you all this afternoon.

This will be Derby number 13 for me. It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years. It was 10 years ago that it was Orb in the mud making that big play outside. I gave him that big call, “Orb!” and I was hoping it was really him because the track was that muddy.

It proves you have to be ready for everything calling this horse race. It is 20 horses. It’s the most important horse race in the country. There’s so much going on. You never know what you’re going to see, and we saw that last year with Rich Strike coming up from the inside. I was just so happy I was able to pick him up in time because that was quite a late move that he made with Sonny Leon.

It is just an absolute thrill to be back with this great crew and calling the Kentucky Derby for the 13th time. Can’t wait to get to Louisville and can’t wait to do it. We’ll have so many different races over the two days. A whole lot going on.

With that, we’ll send it over to our man, Jerry Bailey.

JERRY BAILEY: Thanks, Larry. Look, we were counting up the amount of Derbies we’d all been here, and I guess it was 34 for me. I thought I’d seen just about everything, but the last four years really proved me wrong.

In 2019, we had a horse disqualified for interference during the running of the race, first ever from the 21 position. The next year we had a Derby on the first Saturday in September instead of the first Saturday in May. In ’21, we had a horse disqualified for a medication violation, which took months to adjudicate, if not more than that.

Then last year we had a horse that won the Kentucky Derby that 24 hours prior wasn’t even in the body of the race at 80-to-1, as Mike mentioned.

So a lot of strange things can happen. You won’t see it unless you tune in. As Lindsay mentioned, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dale Earnhardt, which could mean a lot of cool things as we contrast and compare auto and horse racing. So you don’t want to miss that.

Randy, what are your thoughts, Buddy?

RANDY MOSS: Jerry and I have been sitting next to each other on TV sets, this is our 18th year, and we’re always looking for little things that we can do different from one year to the next, little edges in our preparation, something different that we can do to make it better. We pride ourselves on talking to all the connections in the Derby and making sure we’ve got all the little story lines.

You can watch all the races, you can read all you can read about these horses, but there’s really no substitute for talking to them in person and maybe flushing out any little nuggets that they might have that other people don’t really know about.

This year it’s pretty easy to know what we could do better from what we did last year because, when Rich Strike crossed the finish line -- as you guys have pointed out, he didn’t get into the race until Friday. A horse named Ethereal Road scratched, and that enabled Rich Strike to draw in from the also eligibles. I didn’t have trainer Eric Reed’s phone number. Jerry didn’t have his phone number. We never had to talk to him before.

We watched the horse’s races and everything. It was Oaks Day. We were preparing for our telecast. Do we really need to talk to Eric Reed and find his phone number? No. This horse has no chance, he’s 80-to-1, 100-to-1, he’s not going to win. So we’ll cut that corner and won’t have to worry about talking to people about Rich Strike.

So what happens? Now no matter what happens, no matter who draws in, no matter what the price is on every horse, we’re going to make sure we talk to the connections face to face or on the phone. I think we were fine. We had enough about Rich Strike. It was a historic upset. But it would have been nice to have actually talked to the people before the running of the race. From now on, we will.

EDDIE OLCZYK: Hello, everybody. This is an unbelievable time of year, and it’s always great to be back on this team with this incredible leadership of Lindsay and our entire talent team in front of the camera, but also the incredible men and women behind the scenes that put on this event. It is a long time in the making, and I can’t wait to see everybody and give them a hug and say hello and tell stories.

As I get a little bit older, it takes maybe a little bit longer to tell the same stories over and over again, but it is great to see the people. That’s what I love the most about our team. Looking forward to be with Matt Bernier again, as we have at the Breeders’ Cup the last handful of years. This will be his first at the Kentucky Derby with our coverage on NBC.

So I’m looking forward to working with a talented young handicapper, a real solid guy, a big Boston Bruins fan, unfortunately, like our boss, Sam Flood. They took it on the chin. Sometimes not only in horse racing, but in hockey, long shots win and the favorites don’t, and that’s what makes horse racing so well.

To be with Steve again and with Matthew Berry, so trying to get people an opportunity to get their feet wet. Certainly I know that I will be wearing out a walkway to the window.

As far as the Kentucky Derby, I think -- and I have not spoken to Randy or Jerry about this. I’m looking forward to doing that. I think I can make a case right now for five to six horses and sit there and have a lot of confidence that any of the six that I would pick, that they would have a chance to win. I think it is that wide open.

So as a handicapper in prepping everybody for Saturday and the big race, look, you can go in a lot of different directions. I don’t think people would look at you and say, ‘no, that horse has got no shot,’ as Randy just alluded to with Rich Strike last year. That’s what makes it so exciting this year.

Forte certainly looks like he’s the real deal, and you can’t argue that he will be the favorite, but you’ve got to run the race. And as we always love to say, the handicapper and us watching and us working know the horse’s odds. The horses, the equine athletes have no idea what their odds are, and they’re going to run the race.

So if they happen to be 7-to-2 or 81-to-1, they’re going to do what they do and what they love to do. So I just can’t wait to get to Louisville and see everyone.

Hopefully I’m passing the racing form to the right guy…Steve Kornacki.

STEVE KORNACKI: Thanks, Eddie.

Yeah, I would just echo what everybody’s been saying on the call. This is the third year I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the coverage, to spend time with this team, to be part of this team. It’s a great honor to me. They’re great people. They’re incredible professionals.

I know the quality as a viewer because I was a viewer before I was a part of this telecast the last few years, and the quality, I think, of the production is just outstanding.

This is an event that my first Kentucky Derby that I watched when I was a kid, 1987, Alysheba, been hooked on the Derby, been hooked on the sport ever since. It’s sort of a pinch yourself moment whenever I get to come to a Churchill Downs and be part of this coverage.

A lot of interesting storylines, obviously, this year to be focusing on. You heard Rich Strike mentioned five or six times already on this call. I think the memory of Rich Strike is going to hover over this race in so many different ways. One that I’ll be focusing on, I know certainly during the telecast, is the big question is whether there’s going to be a Rich Strike effect in the betting, just in terms of the odds.

You saw the morning line come out yesterday. I think four horses were at 50-to-1. You got a favorite in Forte at 3-to-1. I thought it was really interesting to go back and look at last time I think you had a Rich Strike-like upset in the Kentucky Derby. To me that’s when you go back to 2009 and Mine That Bird coming out of absolutely nowhere and winning the race. If you take a look at 2010, the immediate next year, there was a dramatic Mine That Bird effect in the betting.

No horse went off in 2010 at odds that were longer than 30-to-1. There were four horses in 2010 who were 50-to-1 on the morning line. Not a single one ended up more than 30-to-1. The favorite went off at 6-to-1. So the betting was very different in 2010 versus 2009, the money was much more evenly spread out.

I think, if we see something like that, that’s one of the things we’re looking for. If we see something like that this year, that could create unexpected value among some of the better horses in that race, maybe some of the six that Eddie has in mind.

Might have been a lower price a year ago. They might be a bit of a higher price this year with so much money going to some of the very long shot horses because a lot of people are going to look at this race, remember Rich Strike, and maybe say why not when they look at one of these impossible looking horses.

Q: Hi, guys. This is for Randy, Jerry, and Eddie, and even Steve as well. Forte seems to be a bit of a lukewarm favorite given his record. Can you explain why and your thoughts on his chances as his morning line perhaps drifts up among the lines? Based on what Steve said about Rich Strike.

RANDY MOSS: I’ll give you my opinion. I think it has everything to do with the way he won the Florida Derby. He won the Fountain of Youth, and he was just visually dynamic. The Florida Derby was much more workmanlike. He looked like he was beaten at the quarter pole and even at the eighth pole, when Mage ran by him around the turn.

He did pull it out at the end and won it by daylight, but the final time wasn’t, by a speed figure perspective, didn’t blow anybody away visually. The win didn’t blow anybody away. I think that’s why he’s more of a lukewarm favorite now than his record might indicate he should be.

EDDIE OLCZYK: I would just say to me he’s a ‘trier.’ Like from a handicapping point of view and the visual, he just -- it looks like the will and the want to is there, and it just -- I don’t know if the right word is workmanlike or just a grinding type style because it looked like -- I don’t know what Randy and Jerry think, but in that Florida Derby, it looked like it took him a while to get going again. It just looked like, ‘oh, okay, now I’ve got to get going.’

But once he kind of got on the outside, he just looked like, ‘okay, I know what I’ve got to do. I know where the wire is.’ And then it looked like, once he got to Mage, he was taking 2.5, 3 strides to Mage’s one. Mage made the big early move there because he got off a little rough. I just think the style, he’s not going to be denied.

We heard Lindsay mention Mike Repole, and of course that horse is co-owned by Vinnie and Teresa Viola of St. Elias Stable, and seeing Vinnie talk about that horse after the Florida Derby, the horse is not going to be denied. I think there’s something for that.

Adversity is a really important part of the Kentucky Derby, and you’ve got to be able to maneuver and stick handle your way through. If we have 20 starters, you’ve got to find your way through 19 other equine athletes. He just seems to be, does he want to get to the wire? I think there’s something for that. That has a lot to do with the success, and obviously being the morning line favorite.

Q: Question for Jerry and Randy. How do you rate the overall talent of this field? What’s your kind of favorite contenders in that next group that’s right behind him?

JERRY BAILEY: This is Jerry. I don’t know -- every year it’s the same thing. I don’t know how we rate them until later on in the year, but at this point on paper, a lot of them look pretty even. I’d say they’re an above-average group.

I would go with the number five or six. That’s the number that Randy and I have landed on, of horses that if things go their way in the race, they could win, and it wouldn’t surprise us even a little bit.

Behind Forte, you have Verifying, you have Tapit Trice, you have Derma Sotogake. I’ll let Randy talk about him. He’s the Derma Sotogake fan. Angel of Empire. There is a clump of horses that, if anything goes really right for them, they could probably win.

RANDY MOSS: That’s probably the big five that Jerry and I – five or six. Forte, Tapit Trice, Derma Sotogake, Verifying, Angel of Empire.

JERRY BAILEY: Practical Move was on my list until Santa Anita. He won, but I thought he would run better than that in the Santa Anita Derby. That kind of performance, I don’t think, wins the Kentucky Derby. He’d have to improve on that.

RANDY MOSS: Bottom line, would we be surprised if Practical Move won? No. Would we be surprised if Skinner won? No. Would we be surprised if Two Phil’s won? He ran a fast race on synthetic, if he transfers that to dirt.

There are quite a few contenders in here, you may not have them in your top five, but if the race is won and one of them wins, you certainly wouldn’t be shocked at the outcome.

Q: This one’s for Lindsay. Lindsay, I know you’ve been part of horse racing and the coverage for other horse racing events for a while, but last year was your first as the senior producer. Do you have any lessons learned or any kind of advice from your first debut last year?

LINDSAY SCHANZER: I learned a lot last year as I have on every broadcast I’ve produced. I’ve been through the ringer, I think, in my experience. I’m sitting here with Jerry and Randy, who are giggling at me. Through the ringer in my experience producing horse races, and last year was no exception.

It’s really just a matter of being prepared for anything and recognizing that we’ll sit here all week and the months leading up to it and talk about horses and possible outcomes and stories and this and that, and at the end of the day, the horse that got in 24 hours prior to the race could cross the wire first and shock you all.

So whether it’s weather or such as something happening on race day, timing goes off, a long shot comes in. You hear something from an interview that you didn’t expect, whatever it is. It’s really just being flexible and light on your feet and react to what happens.

And embrace the moment. That’s the other thing. Last year really reminded me there are great things that happen in this sport. It’s been around for almost 150 years, and there are exciting, unforgettable moments, just like last year, and make sure you celebrate what that means in the history of this event and this sport. We were lucky to experience what we did last year, and hopefully we gave audiences the best seat in the house and the most thorough coverage of it.

I’m looking forward to whatever happens this year.

Q: Lindsay, one quick follow up, if I may. From a tech side, I saw a cinematic camera will be used. What do you think it will be used for, and what do you think it will add to the broadcast?

LINDSAY SCHANZER: We’re trying it out this year. I think for the most part we’re going to focus on the events outside the racing side of things. We’re going to get a shot on the races as well, but for the most part, we’re looking for it to cover the flavor, the fashion, all of the color in and around Churchill Downs and what makes this one of the greatest events in American sports.

We’ll see that throughout the coverage. Celebrities, what they’re wearing, what they’re drinking, what they’re eating, all the people around, the hats they’re wearing. We’re expecting to pepper it throughout the broadcast to really give you the flavor of this event.

Q: Last year the aerial replay drew so many views on social media, the view from the Winged Vision Cessna that was 2,500 feet in the sky and got this great view. From a technology standpoint, can you lean on that again this year if need be? Have there been any advances as far as doing the aerial stuff technology-wise?

LINDSAY SCHANZER: Absolutely we’ll lean into it. From an advancement standpoint, not specifically. The technology honestly is great. It works really well. We haven’t used it too much in the past, in part because we haven’t had a setup as exciting as Rich Strike to show how he came all the way through the pack and weaved in and out of horses through the stretch.

But to your point, we know that people really paid attention to it and liked it. I think one of the things I’m thinking about going into this broadcast is spend a little bit more time up in the air on race replays as it is. It’s a different look. People aren’t used to it. It really shows the perspective of the field and how moves are made.

Even if it’s not a move being made in between horses, the separation from a horse that wins by a lot. I’m hoping you can expect to see a lot more aerial coverage within this year’s show. And we do have the iso track system back in case we get another exciting weave like Rich Strike.

Q: Can you talk about the technology and anything that’s advanced in that or anything you’ve been told regarding that? The ability to zoom in is incredible. I’m just curious what you know about it.

LINDSAY SCHANZER: We’ve got great pilots up in the air who will be flying that Winged Vision plane, and we’ll track horses along the way. As fast as we can get it to you, we’ll turn it around.

We also have drone coverage. Per restrictions, they don’t fly directly over the horses. It’s not that same perspective. The aerial perspective from the Rich Strike viral clip was the aerial camera as opposed to drone coverage.

We’ll continue utilizing that. I’m not sure about advancements beyond that specifically at this point, but we’re pretty happy with the coverage that we have.

Q: This question is for Steve Kornacki. Steve, you have such a deep following on the news and your big boards. How much do you enjoy now being integrated into the sports department?

STEVE KORNACKI: It’s tough to put into words. I love it. I feel incredibly lucky, incredibly fortunate. The NBC Sports people have been unbelievably generous and welcoming to me. Their eagerness to include me means a ton to me.

I think, like I said, the sports opportunities I’ve had, particularly when it comes to the Derby itself and horse racing in general, I feel particularly lucky because I’m just such a big fan. It’s something, really going back to when I was a kid. This is a sport I followed really closely.

Even before I was doing Derby and horse racing coverage for NBC, I would spend – this is how I would spend my weekends, watching the races and me and my uncle having a phone call in the morning deciding which track we were going to play and kind of figuring out our strategy for the day. It’s something I’ve always just enjoyed the sport tremendously.

When I got to cover this in 2021 for the first time, it was the first time I actually got to go to the Derby in person. Just being there and getting the environment – ’21 was the first post-COVID year, so I think it was probably half capacity, but it felt pretty full to me. Just an incredible experience.

Like I said, whether it’s on horse racing or Sunday Night Football, the folks both on air and off I’ve gotten a chance to work with, sometimes I’ll look up and watching these races and watching the recaps, and I’ll realize, ‘geez, I’m getting to be in the same room as Jerry Bailey.’ There’s somebody who I’ve watched this guy ride. I remember so many of his races.

I’m getting to hear him maybe off the air even just give his unfiltered thoughts, and I find that is kind of a thrill for me.

Q: This can be for – I guess it can be for anybody who can answer it. I think that it was touched upon a little bit earlier, the long shots in recent years. Do you chalk it up to a statistical anomaly? Is it just a random chance that eventually this would happen? Or the field perhaps getting a little tighter than maybe 10, 20 years ago? I guess whoever wants to answer that, whether it’s Steve or Mike or anybody else that wants to jump in.

STEVE KORNACKI: I could say something just real quickly. I think it’s interesting what you’re asking about because, yes, obviously we had a huge price last year. The payout in ’21 with Medina Spirit was pretty big. If there had been a payout on Mandaloun, who ultimately was declared the winner months later, that would have been even larger. You had Country House via the disqualification in 2019 at 65-to-1.

There have been some monster payouts and monster upsets the last few years. But there’s also the simultaneous trend, which is something we’ll touch on in the broadcast, during the points era, the points qualifying era for the Derby which started in 2013, the favorites have been doing fairly well. You had that stretch from 2013 to 2018 of six straight favorites winning. I think nine of the 10 favorites in the points era have been first, second, or third.

So I think there’s a bit of a challenge there in terms of in the points era, if you’re structuring bets, I think the lesson you take away is, yeah, some real long shots can come in, but you respect the favorites as well. Certainly for contenders obviously, but respect the favorite as well, if you start building an exact try or something like that.

To me, it’s a big contrast. I grew up and came of age in the ‘80s and ‘90s watching the Derby, and there wasn’t a single favorite those entire years who won the Derby. Again, we’ve had the majority in the points era of winners have been favorites.

EDDIE OLCZYK: Just real quick, we need to make sure that people are understanding that this challenging distance for these young three-year-olds, a lot of these horses will never run this distance of 1 1/4 mile at the Kentucky Derby in front of 165,000 or 170,000 people and all of the millions of people that will be watching from home. It is a very unique setting, and some horses, some equine athletes, some athletes, some people can tune it all out and just seem to be able to run their race or to play their game regardless.

Those are all things that, as a handicapper, you try to figure out is that, can some of these horses get that 1 1/4 mile? Can the racetrack carry them the little bit of an extra distance? Because we could all sit here and maybe give you 10 horses that are running the Derby, and we may all agree that their breeding suggests they can’t get the distance. But as I said earlier, the equine athletes don’t know what their odds are. They don’t know if there’s 20 million bets on them to win or 20 million bets for them to show. They do what they do.

That’s what makes it so challenging because – and a lot of them too, they’re not going to run in races that have 19 other competitors. That’s just not going to happen for the most part ever again. Now, I know ever is a long time, but those are all things that come into the running of the race that you try to handicap and you try to figure it out.

If they go really, really fast, like if we all knew this race was going to set Derby records for the first 3/4 of a mile, six furlongs, or the first mile of the race, it would be a lot easier to handicap because you know the horses that would be able to get the distance and be able to close into a fast pace.

Most recent memory is, and Steve made the brilliant point earlier, last year Rich Strike in a long shot, and now people are going to start gravitating to horses that maybe people think they have no chance and what have you.

So it makes for -- that’s why this Friday and Saturday, not just the Derby, but the undercard races, as well as Lindsay mentioned, there is a boatload of value, and that’s why as a handicapper and a horse player, it’s a pretty good chance.

I don’t know if you can do this, but I’m going to really give it a try to go ahead and wear out an app on my phone because I’m going to probably be seeing a lot of value over the course of the weekend.

Q: With your experience on different -- so close to horse racing through the years, when the Triple Crown wasn’t on one network, the horse industry kind of had this angst about not having the synergy of being on one network, and it seems like in the modern setup, is that less of a concern for the industry given that people are, I assume, more accustomed to multiple platforms, multiple networks, all those things?

RANDY MOSS: First of all, you’ve got to keep in mind that you’re talking to someone from NBC, right, who has a vested interest in this, who thinks that NBC does a fantastic job on broadcasting horse racing and that NBC should have all three Triple Crown races.

Getting that behind us, you can make the case that synergy is important. Someone perhaps from a different network could also make the case that in today’s media landscape you get professional sports, the NFL is on a lot of different networks, things like that, and maybe people are more accustomed now than they used to be back in the day of checking their local listings, so to speak, and finding out what network the program that they’re looking for is located on.