As told to: Perry LefkoSo how did I get into broadcasting hockey and horse racing?
I’ve been an avid horse owner and bettor for a long time, and in 1994, after we won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers, I took the Cup to the Belmont Park for the day and had a photo taken with myself and Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin, trained by New Yorker Nick Zito.
The following September, the National Hockey League had a work stoppage because of a labor disagreement between the players and the owners, so the management of the Meadowlands Racetrack, where I had brought the Cup, asked me to be their race analysis/handicapper on the in-house broadcast of the track’s races. They paid me to come to the track and handicap the races and it lasted for the entire meet, which lasted about four months.
That was the first time I ever worked with a camera, a crew, an IFB, which allows the director to speak to the on-air talent through an ear piece. That’s how I got my start in television and 21 years later I came full circle, working as part of NBC’s coverage of the 2015 Kentucky Derby two weeks ago.
I love thoroughbred racing and broadcasting and it’s been a thrill to be part of the NBC’s coverage of the American Triple Crown, having watched if forever. I’ve been part of NBC’s horse racing coverage for the last eight or nine months. While covering the NHL playoffs for NBC as its lead analyst in 2013, I gave out my picks for the Derby, which immediately followed the game we were broadcasting. When there were breaks in the game to highlight the Derby, my broadcast partner, Doc Emrick, kept promoting that I’d be giving out my Derby picks. When the time came, he said, “Who do you like, Kid?” I picked Orb to win and suggested using Golden Soul in the exacta bet to determine the top two finishers. Orb went off at more than 5-1, and Golden Soul, who was a 50-1 long shot, placed second. Orb paid $12.80 to win. The exacta paid $981.60. I also gave out the finishers of the top four horses, which I suggested boxing, which is a way of grouping them all together, for a cost of $24. The “Super” paid $28,542.
Being part of the Derby broadcast was different from what I’d done before because the Derby is centre stage. The feeling was incredible. Knowing you’re at the Derby working was just a privilege and an honor.
I was part of the NBCSN coverage the day before for the card that included the Kentucky Oaks, which is the equivalent of the Derby for three-year-old fillies. In total, I was part of some 11 hours of coverage the two days. That was the most of any horse racing work I had done, because it was the most content and the time we had to fill, so I was giving out picks both days and providing information leading up to the actual Derby race broadcast on the main NBC network.
I had some good luck both days with my picks, but as you know that can go awfully quick. You can have a six-point night in a hockey game and go the next three or four games without any points. Sometimes you feel it and go for it when you’re handicapping, but I’ve never really been a “chalk” player, which is term used for people who bet the favorites.
The confidence really grew when the first pick I gave out on the Friday broadcast was a 20-1 long shot, Awesome Jill, who won. They were filming me live during the race. When you come out firing like that you’re going to gain a lot of confidence and a lot of traction. Obviously it was a good weekend and I was happy I was able to contribute.
Overall, of the $100 NBC gave me, I turned it into $747 in winnings, which works out to be more than 6-1. We just tried to make it easy and basic to follow with simple wagers like win, place and show and some “exotic bets” like exactas (top two finishers), trifectas (top three) and superfectas (top four). As for me personally with my own bets, I had a “healthy” day on Friday.
Getting to broadcast hockey and horse racing is like hitting the lottery again. It’s amazing.
Was there pressure to pick the Derby winner? There’s great pressure. Last year when I debuted for NBCSN on its coverage of the Santa Anita Gold Cup, they put me on a minute and a half before the race and I picked a horse, Sheza Smoke Show, at 10-1 and gave my reasons and she won. The next race was the Hollywood Gold Cup, and I picked Majestic Harbor, a 15-1 long shot in a small field of seven horses and it won. So the first two races I’m featured in, I won with two long shots.
I’ve played enough horses in my life to know that you can have a race with 15 horses and the horse you pick runs last. It’s inevitable; it’s going to happen. So if the horses I pick wins, it looks like I know what I’m doing or what I’m trying to accomplish.
When you get into the Derby, the “big show” so to speak, you’re giving out a horse to win and not getting too crazy with your analysis because the demographic that is watching maybe only be watching horse racing once or twice a year. You want to give them something basic without getting into hardcore analysis. We just tried to make it as easy as we could. I didn’t think it was an overly tough Derby to handicap. I picked Dortmund, who had the lead for most of the race but tired and finished third. American Pharoah, the favorite, won, followed by closely by Firing Line. If you boxed (grouped) the horses I gave out, you’d have won the trifecta, which paid $202.00.
Going into this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, in Baltimore, I like Dortmund. If you look at where he ran in the Derby, I thought he was in the deepest part of the track compared to all the other races on the day that were run on the dirt in which the winners basically came from the near or close to the middle of the track. I thought he was running uphill along the rail, while American Pharoah and Firing Line were running straight on the even part of the track (it’s like on a beach, and Dortmund was running on the loose sand furthest away from the water, compared to near the water, where the sand is packed down).
I think Dortmund ran a much better race than he showed considering where he was on the track.
There’s very few days that I’m not looking at the Daily Racing Form, which is the daily newspaper that includes news and information and race entries. I just like reading and looking and seeing how horses have run.
In 2009, while on my home to Chicago from the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas, I invested $166 on a Pick 6 ticket, which requires picking the winners of six consecutive races, at Hollywood Park in California. When I returned home, I found out I had one of only three winning tickets that paid almost $500,000 apiece.
When I was asked about it for a newspaper story, I said: “Every squirrel finds a nut once in a while, so I just happened to get lucky. It’s a tough enough game to pick a couple winners, let alone six in a row. But sometimes just the combinations have to come up right. I was one of three people to win, so I was pretty lucky. It’s like hitting the lottery.”
Getting to broadcast hockey and horse racing is like hitting the lottery again. It’s amazing. I was hoping to do the horse racing part in addition to hockey for a long time.
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