Horse racing is coming up on a weekend of peak interest as Justify attempts to complete the Triple Crown with a win at the Belmont Stakes.
Coverage begins at 3 p.m. Saturday on Ch. 11, and viewership should be robust. According to NBC’s numbers, the past two Belmont races where a Triple Crown was at stake drew close to 20 million viewers; with no potential for a crown, the recent viewership numbers have declined to fewer than 6 million.
In advance of the race, I chatted with Prior Lake’s Randy Moss — the NBC horse racing analyst, who is not to be confused with the legendary former Vikings receiver — about the Belmont, his famous name and more:
Q: How good is Justify and how does this horse compare to other great horses?
A: Well, we’ll find out exactly how good on June 9. He’s going to have to run better to win the Belmont than he did in the Preakness. In the Preakness he regressed three to five lengths from his effort in the Kentucky Derby, and typically those horses don’t do very well in the Belmont. But if Justify is a special horse like American Pharaoh he’ll be able to overcome that.
Q: Is the primary concern and challenge of Belmont the longer distance?
A: The distance has something to do with it because today’s American racehorses aren’t bred to run 1.5 miles. This will be the only time in the vast majority of these horses’ lives that they’ll be asked to run that long. Then you factor in the three races in five weeks that span the Triple Crown. Even 30 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for horses to run every two or three weeks. Now that’s a rarity. Horses aren’t quite as durable as they used to be, so it’s more problematic in today’s sport to run three times in five weeks.
Q: What should we look for Saturday?
A: In situations like this, even the jockey won’t know how much horse he’s sitting on until he gets to the top of the stretch of Belmont. The best horses like Justify are ones that always make things look easy and always look good in training. What we see from Justify from workouts is encouraging, but history will tell us that doesn’t necessarily mean Triple Crown.
Q: I have to ask you about the other Randy Moss. He’s 18 years younger than you, and I’m curious about any interactions or the first time you realized you shared a name with someone getting pretty famous?
A: When I was much younger and had a head of hair, a friend sent me a newspaper clipping from West Virginia with a photo of a young Randy Moss, high school phenom. That was the first exposure I had to any other Randy Moss, and obviously it’s grown exponentially since then. It gets a little annoying sometimes, but on the positive side at least he’s a really successful guy. I met him once in the Vikings locker in his second stint. I was on assignment for NFL Network, it was an open locker room, and after I had talked to the people in the locker room, my main goal was just to meet him. I knew that he knew of me through mutual friends. I hung around the locker room and walked up to him. He saw I was with the media and immediately started to head back to the training room. I said, “wait, wait, wait. I don’t want a quote. I just want to introduce myself.” He looked at me puzzled. I walked up and said, “I’m Randy Moss, nice to meet you.” And he smiled and said, “Dog! Nice to meet you.”