Choosing their words: How NBC’s team calls the action
Listening to Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey talk, they sound more like brothers than co-workers. They finish each other’s sentences. They make jokes about things like male-pattern baldness.
Moss, a newspaper reporter-turned-broadcaster, and Bailey, a hall of fame jockey-turned-broadcaster, have worked together as horse racing television analysts — first at ESPN starting in 2006 and for the last five years at NBC.
Moss had been at ESPN since 1999, and Bailey retired from riding in 2006 after 31 years and winning 5,893 races with a combined total purse of $296 million.
When millions of viewers tune in to watch the Kentucky Derby on May 5, Bailey and Moss will be ready to talk about every horse and any possible outcome of the hardest race in the world to handicap. That’s because they spend Derby week together. They go to the track together. They go to Starbucks together. They go to dinner together. They even conduct interviews together.
Moss and Bailey spoke with SportsBusiness Journal’s Liz Mullen about a working relationship that has turned into a friendship.
How did you guys start working together?
MOSS: In 2005, when Jerry was still riding, I got a call from an ESPN executive. He told me they had an opportunity to hire Jerry Bailey as an analyst and how did I feel about it. I said — not that what I said mattered — but I said, “It’s the best thing you could ever do.” I had interviewed Jerry quite a few times, and I knew he was uncommonly analytical and eloquent and intelligent, and I thought he’d be a smash hit, and we’ve been working together ever since.
BAILEY: In January 2006, I had a deal in place with ESPN and I think my first race was the San Felipe (a stakes race at Santa Anita) and my colleague Randy Moss was holding my hand through that first show and ever since. The only thing I really knew about TV was from the opposite side of the camera — being interviewed. On-the-job training started on day one, from how to tune out the guy in your ear to the rhythm of the production to the separation from the broadcast. He really taught me a ton of things.
When you are on the air, who are you talking to?
MOSS: I sort of pretend I am talking to someone who enjoys horse racing, who knows a little about it but isn’t necessarily a horse racing expert. I think it’s very important not to talk down to the audience and at the same time don’t use terminology that a lot of people don’t understand. So it’s kind of a delicate balance in horse racing, because there are a lot of inside jargon things that you can slip in, but you try not to.
BAILEY: I will try to invoke traffic situations that everybody can relate to when I am attempting to explain horses running from the gate to the wire. Such as trying to get off at an exit and you are three lanes over and you need to make a move. Such as trying to weave through traffic when you are going 35 mph versus 75 mph. So that’s how I try to explain what we see as jockeys, which people don’t understand. But as a driver of a car, you can totally relate to.
How do you prepare to talk to the audience about horses and do you usually agree or disagree on horses?
BAILEY: We sit in the same trailer and there is so much back and forth and there is so much information before the Kentucky Derby — 20 horses — more than you have in any other race that we broadcast. It’s like drinking water from a firehose. We are trying to research and entertain. And we talk about all of it before. And when the light goes on, if I forget something Randy will remember that I’ve said it. And if it’s important enough he can bring it full circle and remind me of it. Or vice versa. Because there is a lot of stuff we will banter back and forth with. But if we forget something, one of us will remember it. And that’s important because you don’t want to spend a lifetime researching something and forget it.
MOSS: Sometimes he’ll convince me to like a horse. Sometimes I will convince him to like a horse. What’s amazing is that independently — Jerry here in Fort Lauderdale and me in Minneapolis — we will most of the time end up with the same opinion on the horses and their chances to win. The times that we really disagree on air are the interesting times and times people remember.
Sometimes he’ll convince me to like a horse. Sometimes I will convince him to like a horse. What’s amazing is that independently … we will most of the time end up with the same opinion on the horses and their chances to win. The times that we really disagree on air are the interesting times and times people remember.
What was your biggest disagreement?
BAILEY: The funny thing is my dad, he lives in El Paso, Texas, and he watches these races and he called me after the Belmont of California Chrome [where he lost the Triple Crown in 2014]. Because on that show we had the most major disagreement on air that we ever had about the way a jockey rode a horse.
MOSS: And we still disagree.
BAILEY: We can go into it for about 15 minutes right now about why he thinks he’s right and why I think I’m right. It was just an honest disagreement about how we thought Victor Espinoza rode California Chrome. My dad said to me, “Are you OK? It seemed you were kind of mad on the show.”
MOSS: I thought he blew the Triple Crown and the Belmont Stakes and Jerry didn’t.
BAILEY: I thought he didn’t have the horse he had before and I hold him totally blameless.
MOSS: And I’m right, and I’ve been trying to convince Jerry for how many years now? (They both laugh.)
What happens if a long shot wins the Kentucky Derby? How do you prepare for that?
MOSS: One of the biggest challenges in doing what we do and covering horse racing for print and doing it for television is that no matter who wins, whether it’s Arcangues [who won the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Bailey riding at 133-1], whether it’s Mine That Bird [who won the 2009 Kentucky Derby at 50-1], as soon as that race is over you don’t have time to do any research. So as soon as that race is over you damn well better have good information about the horse that won. Not just why he won, but how he got there, what his back story was, stories about his connections. So that is what we spend our week doing, talking to every one of the people connected to the horse as possible and trying our best to come up with something interesting and preferably something that nobody else has or nobody else knows.
BAILEY: And Randy is the best at it because he works so hard at it.