The more that I watch mainstream media’s coverage of horse racing on television, the more I think that we might be better off if the sport didn’t get covered at all.
I didn’t watch this year’s Derby coverage, but based on the Oaks coverage on Bravo and the Preakness coverage on NBC, I’m thinking that I didn’t miss much.
The Preakness show opens with an overview of the Mine That Bird/Rachel Alexandra/Calvin Borel storyline and a quick review of the odds. Disconcertingly, the audio/video sync is off, and continues that way for much of the program.
Bob Costas promises us a “full look back at the story of Mine That Bird,” and man, he isn’t kidding. The story goes on for a full 25 minutes, including commercial breaks, nearly a third of the scheduled 90 minutes of coverage. While the segments include some engaging moments, including far more endearing perspectives on Mine That Bird’s trainer, Chip Woolley, and owner, Mark Allen, than we saw on Derby day, you can’t tell me that racing is better served by dishing up this drawn-out story than it would have been by coverage of, oh, say, a little live racing? I’m not even sure whether NBC has actually shown a live shot of a horse at this point.
After this interminable re-telling, the broadcast switches to Tom Hammond and Gary Stevens, who offer some nice race analysis of both the Derby and the Oaks, doing justice to Mine That Bird’s extraordinary run to the finish line and Rachel Alexandra’s domination.
Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumeier (good to see him back) do some mercifully quick and relatively meaningless segments on one-hit wonders and fillies in the Preakness, followed by—finally—analysis of some of the other Preakness entrants. Until now, viewers might be forgiven for thinking that the Preakness is a match race between Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird.
It will be no surprise to hear that I enjoy a segment on the history of Pimlico and the Preakness, including footage of Seabiscuit’s match race. Kenny Rice observes that Pimlico has “always been a stop on the second jewel to the Triple Crown.” Not exactly—the Preakness was run for over a decade at New York tracks, and at least one Triple Crown winner took the Preakness before he won the Derby and the Belmont: Gallant Fox, in 1930.
Unable to resist—after all, it’s probably been a good ten minutes since anyone’s mentioned them–NBC goes back to Mine That Bird, the Derby, and Borel. Are there any other jockeys in this race? The only other whose name I’ve heard is Mike Smith. At this point, I am wishing that neither Mine That Bird nor Rachel Alexander wins, so that NBC can look foolish for failing to mention the name of the winner in its copious pre-race coverage.
Bob Neumeier, in the midst of his handicapping, offers up a clanging grammatical mistake as he invites viewers to “join Mike [Battaglia] and I” in not picking Mine That Bird.
I knew that we’d never get through the whole program without a few sexist lines, and they predictably come when Rachel Alexandra is described by Battaglia as a “man running against boys.” He follows up that gem by pointing out that, “Nobody told her she’s a filly…she’s big, she’s strong…” I guess if she knows that she’s a girl, she’ll run like a little lady and be a little less sensational than she is.
Battaglia picks her to win, and Hammond says that “Every woman in America agrees” with him. ‘Cause we girls have to stick together! Right?
We are now at the 1:28 mark of a 1:30 broadcast, the post parade hasn’t started, and I am very glad that I set the TiVo to add extra time.
Hammond gets back major points with me when he points out, as the camera shows the filly in the paddock, “That’s she, Rachel Alexander.” Thank you for that predicate nominative, Tom. It takes a little of the sting out of Neumeier’s muffed object pronoun.
I will never get over the weirdness of hearing “O Christmas Tree” sung at the Preakness.
The coverage of the race itself is of course terrific, and the post-race coverage as pedestrian as that in all other sports. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley stuns when he offers that the Woodlawn Vase is “the most coveted trophy in all of sports.” Oh, really? Ever heard of Lord Stanley?
I suppose we should be glad that we were subjected to endless stories about Mine That Bird and his connections, instead of the sordid story of Rick Dutrow’s background and too much face time for Michael Iavarone, as we were last year.
But really—it was all so boring. There was far too much focus on the same stories over and over, and not nearly enough on actual horse racing. A few well-placed races in the run-up to the big event, balanced with a focus on the stars of the day and—call me crazy—mention of the other horses in the race, would, I think, project some of racing’s excitement to those viewing at home. The weekend’s ratings show that people are willing to tune in to watch horse racing; it’s a shame they got to see so little of it.