One of my favorite moments at the three big horse races, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, is when the reporter interviews the winning jockey right after the race ends while they are both on horseback.
Mostly, I wonder at how the reporter, Donna Brothers, does it. I would be thrown off my pony long before I got to the interview. I also suppose it would be more difficult to ask questions and hold a microphone when trotting around a track.
After the Belmont this weekend, I found myself criticizing Brothers for the quality of her questions. They were insipid. At the same time, jockey Victor Espinoza gave emotional answers that revealed his excitement at winning the Triple Crown.
Brothers started with the most common question, disdained by many professional reporters: How do you feel?
Espinoza answered: “It’s an amazing thing. It’s amazing how things work out. This is an amazing horse.”
Brothers then asked, “When did you know you had the Triple Crown winner.” If Espinoza wanted to be coy, he could have answered, “When we crossed the finish line.” Instead he said, “In the first turn. He broke a little slowly (from the gate). In the first turn. But in two jumps, we were right in the lead. That’s when I knew.”
“What makes American Pharoah special?” Brothers asked, as if winning the Triple Crown weren’t enough.
“The way he runs,” Espinoza said. “The way he hits the ground. You don’t even feel it. You feel like you’re going in slow motion.”
Normally a reporter who asks such softball questions will get disappointing answers, and this situation demonstrated how the person being interviewed can control the situation: Answer the way you want, giving as much information as you are comfortable sharing. That’s a good thing to remember for anyone who is about to be interviewed by a reporter.
In doing a little research, though, I also found out I wasn’t giving Brothers enough credit. As a former jockey who rode in more than 9,000 races, she understands the value of reaching the winning jockey right after the race ends.
“The point is that I can be there soon enough to capture emotion,” she told USA Today. “It’s impossible to capture an emotion when you’re the third person talking to that person.”
In other words, Brothers knows what she’s doing, and asks the right questions for the moment. That’s also good to remember, whether you are the one asking or answering the questions.