NBC's Tom Hammond Excited Breeders' Cup Gets Chance To Air Live In Primetime
The Breeders’ Cup has returned to its original home with NBC Sports Group, and this weekend the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the first time will be broadcast live on NBC in primetime from Santa Anita Park. Calling the event will be NBC's Tom Hammond, who said, “People are used to seeing big-time championship events in primetime, so I think there’s no question that this fits the bill. ... It’s a worthy primetime event because it ranks right up there with any other sports championship event across the country, so we’re happy it's finally getting into primetime.” Hammond on Thursday took some time to talk about the expanding media coverage for the Breeders’ Cup, what horse racing event could be next to come to primetime and who gets his vote for this year’s Heisman Trophy.
Q: You’ve been involved with Breeders’ Cup for over 20 years now. How have you seen coverage change and expand?
Hammond: When we first started doing it, it was a much more compact event. Now it’s expanded to two days and 15 races. So that part of it has changed. But the coverage of it has not changed in its core approach, to try to bring people that don’t know much about horse racing some information and educate them as well as entertain them. But the new gadgets that we have -- like a gyro camera that’s going to follow them in a vehicle from the inside -- new techniques for coverage have evolved of course, but the core of the coverage has remained the same in that we try not to insult anybody’s intelligence and try to educate those people that aren’t horse racing fans.
Q: Your role has changed over the years from Breeders’ Cup reporter to host of the event. Which do you prefer?
Hammond: I prefer being the host because you have a little hand in everything. I started out as a reporter -- and not just a reporter either, I was on the back stretch, back in the barn area reporting on things that were happening. From there I went to co-host for a while with Dick Enberg and then became the host. The thing about being the host is you have to know a little bit about everything and just be able to put all your experiences into words and try to bring some sense to the sometimes chaotic situations that happen in horse racing. It’s difficult to cover because there are a lot of unknowns, a lot of things happen that you can’t plan for and of course the results of the races being one of those things you can’t plan for. You have to be ready for most anything.
Q: What was your most memorable moment working the Breeders’ Cup?
Hammond: It was 1988 at Churchill Downs. The race was called the Distaff then, now it’s called the Ladies Classic. There was a filly named Personal Ensign who was undefeated in her career and this was to be her last race. She was facing the horse Winning Colors that had won the Kentucky Derby on that same track earlier that year. As they came down the stretch, Personal Ensign had what appeared to be no chance to win, and somehow in the last strides of the race willed herself to victory and was able to retire undefeated. I think that’s probably the best race I’ve ever seen and certainly the best Breeders’ Cup race, the most memorable one for me anyways.
Q: Do you have a favorite venue for the event?
Hammond: I like the different ones. Of course Santa Anita is beautiful, you know the weather will be nice. Churchill Downs can handle a big crowd. Belmont -- while the weather isn’t so good sometimes -- is traditionally one of the big centers of American racing. It was also nice to go to a place like Lone Star in Texas or Woodbine in Canada just to change things up and get a change of scenery. I like the concept of moving around to different venues. It will be back in Santa Anita next year and no one ever complains about coming to Southern California.
Q: Do you think a Triple Crown race will be next to come to primetime?
Hammond: It’s a possibility, but that’s not in the works that I know of. It’s a possibility at least for the Kentucky Derby because Churchill Downs does have lights. But I haven’t heard any sentiment at NBC for switching the Derby to nighttime. I’m not sure how Churchill Downs feels about it. To me, the Derby is an all day event, an afternoon event and it’s not just a horse race. After all, the horse race only lasts a couple of minutes. It’s all the pomp and pageantry that surrounds the race, and it seems to me like it would lose some of that if you moved it to primetime.
Q: You cover both horse racing and college football. How do preparation and coverage for the two compare?
Hammond: At the Breeders’ Cup you have to know something about every horse, trainer, jockey. It’s a daunting task to try to do that kind of preparation. There’s a lot more writing involved, for instance bringing the post parade, where the horses parade before the races, to tell something about each one of them. That’s a lot more difficult, where football’s a little bit easier. I think racing is probably the most difficult of all the different events that I cover. It’s certainly more difficult than track and field, football or basketball. The thing about racing though, that I do like a lot, is that next to the Olympics it has more good stories than any of the other sports. If you look at each race, there’s an interesting story with a horse and an interesting story with a jockey or with a trainer. There’s just lots of storylines that you can follow. That part of it really appeals to me.
Q: Notre Dame is obviously having a good season thus far. Has the program's resurgence made it more fun to cover?
Hammond: Absolutely! Who knew they would be this good? I didn’t, that’s for sure. I looked at the schedule before the season started and I said, “Wow, what a tough schedule that is. They’re going to take a few lumps this year.” And it’s been a magical season so far. The defense is really unbelievable. Manti Te'o, the star linebacker, I’m going to vote him for the Heisman Trophy if he continues on the pace he’s been the last few weeks. That would be really something for a defensive player, to be at least even mentioned in the finalists for the Heisman. If they can take care of business they have a chance to make it a super memorable season. There’s no question it’s more fun when Notre Dame is good, and I think it’s good for all of college football when Notre Dame has a good team.
Q: Prediction time. Who takes home the Classic? And how will Notre Dame finish the season?
Hammond: I kind of have an idea that Game On Dude -- who is unbeaten, five-for-five at Santa Anita -- he will probably be the favorite, likely be the favorite. We were talking to Bob Baffert, his trainer, and he says he’s doing well. I said, “How’s Game On Dude doing?” and he gave me a thumbs up, so that I guess is who I predict to win the Classic. As far as Notre Dame goes, ... it’s going to come down to their trip out here to California to play USC. ... I believe they can beat USC so I can see it being an unbeaten regular season for Notre Dame.