Media worlds colliding at the Breeders’ Cup

On Friday evening at Churchill Downs, a lot of people in the press box were surprised at Life At Ten’s performance when she broke – sort of – from the gate in the Distaff. (Do I *have* to call it the Ladies’ Classic? Do I have to?)

And some of us weren’t.

Most of the many televisions in the room were tuned to the track feed, and they were on mute: too many people doing too much writing for the distractions of all-day live commentary. One small TV, at the front of the room, was tuned to ESPN; at various times, its volume was on, but low enough for only those near it to hear it.

So almost no one in the press box heard John Velazquez talking about Life At Ten; no one heard his reservations and concerns. And I didn’t, either…but the message was coming across loud and clear from Twitter, where ESPN viewers were posting fast and furious updates about what they’d heard.

I figured Life At Ten would be scratched, and when she wasn’t, I fleetingly thought that perhaps Velazquez would take care of her and gallop her around the track…but then, “No,” I thought. “The bettors.”

But then Life At Ten stepped out of the gate, and Velazquez barely rode her, and she got distanced. And I wasn’t surprised, because what I’d read on Twitter suggested that what happened was indeed a possibility.

Not so for dozens – maybe hundreds? – of other writers, who watched in bewilderment as this mare who’s made a career of leading the other horses on a merry chase inexplicably lagged far, far, far behind the field.

And all of a sudden, it was clear: the men and women in the press box, those charged with covering the race and reporting to the public, knew a heck of a lot less than the people watching TV and following Twitter.

So there, I was, quoting Twitter feeds to turf writers who wondered what the hell had happened to Life At Ten, and those turf writers were using those Twitter comments to formulate their own questions about just what happened in the minutes leading up to the start of the Distaff. (Do I *have* to call it the Ladies’ Classic? Do I have to?)

It’s not uncommon, I know, for a television audience to have more information than those of us at the track, as either customers or journalists. ESPN watchers knew before I did that Rough Sailing had been euthanized; three years ago, I knew at Aqueduct before my friends at Monmouth did that George Washington had been injured.

But there feels something a little wrong, a little off, about journalists HAVING to rely on alternative media to do their jobs…doesn’t it? Should every turf writer have to follow Twitter or watch TV to know what’s going on? Or is there a responsibility of someone at the races – in the communications office? – to let people know what’s going on?

I’m a fan of Twitter and spend more time reading feeds than I care to admit, and I get a lot of good information about racing, current events, and education (along with a fair bit of dreck) from it; nonetheless, there was something about the turn of events on Friday night that made me a little uneasy. I don’t know why; I can’t put my finger on it. When I’m covering an event, my Twitter feed is up and I rely on it; it feels essential to me.

But I do it by choice; I guess the idea that Twitter has become somehow compulsory is what is leaving me a little nonplussed.

What was clear, though, indubitably so, last Friday night, is that those who weren’t watching TV or following on Twitter were at a disadvantage to those who were. And the collective knowledge of the Twitter community was an indispensable resource to those who, in the immediate aftermath of the race, were looking for answers.

10 thoughts on “Media worlds colliding at the Breeders’ Cup

  1. The fact that I was wagering from home and signed in to Twitter allowed me to toss Life At Ten and I collected Win, Ex and Tri.

    If I had been at the track, I would have lost money as even with my mobile plugged into Twitter I probably wouldn’t have had time to cancel my existing wager and re-bet.

    There’s a lot wrong with what happened in the Distaff.

  2. I only call the race, the Distaff!

    Friday, I watched the races from home with my laptop open and Twitter on and the Crist blog open in another window. Saturday, I spent the day at MTH in the clubhouse restaurant. I brought my iTouch, but there was no wireless. Needless to say that on Saturday I felt far less informed.

    I have developed a mild obsession with Twitter, but I have never been so well informed about racing. Plus, I have found out about a bunch of other bloggers that I now enjoy on a regular basis.

  3. Could John have refused to ride if thought it was unsafe to go full speed?

    This late jockey change would have alerted the public that something (no track completely informs us) was up.

  4. Thought provocative comments. Very worthwhile.

    As to jockey’s choice, jockeys can and have declined to ride a horse at the gate.

  5. Thanks for the comments, folks. Yes, Velazquez could have chosen to take off the mount, but I’m awfully glad that I wasn’t in his position, having to make that decision. On the biggest racing stage in the world for a U.S. jockey, he was in a pretty tough position, considering the horse, the trainer, the bettors.

    Jen, I think that I read that the stewards turned on ESPN after they heard about Velazquez’s coments.

    It’s a terrible, ugly situation, and it seems unlikely that anyone is going to come out of it looking good.

  6. The same thing happened with Borel v. Castellano. I was at Churchill and had just walked away from the track, when a friend in California called and asked me about the fight. What fight? I had to go back to the auxiliary press box and look at the mute TV to see what he meant.

  7. “Or is there a responsibility of someone at the races – in the communications office? – to let people know what’s going on?”

    Having been a press officer in a communications office for an operational governmental entity that served thousands of people on a daily basis (not a race track), my sense is, yes…and no. Yes, it’s the responsibility of an organization to advise its customers/patrons/users, and the media, of an operational situation or problem in advance, IF possible. Sometimes things happen in the course of operations that can’t be anticipated, so advance notice isn’t possible.

    That said, the organization is only responsible for informing and/or explaining its operations and the actions of those it employs (in the case of a race track, certain stewards – not necessarily all of them – and veterinarians, starters, groundskeepers, mutuel clerks, etc., for example), but it can’t be held accountable for the actions of those whom it does not employ or directly control.

    There may be a need for further explanation of an incident or accident after the fact, but it depends entirely on the situation and who’s involved as to whether it’s the track’s job to advise/respond/explain or is some other person’s or entity’s responsibility (such as the state racing commission, the Jockey Club, Jockey’s Guild, a trainer, a jockey, etc.).

    If I worked for a track’s communications office, I shouldn’t be expected to explain every extraordinary event that occurred in the course of a racing day unless it directly affected the track’s operations and/or its customers in some way. The track can, however, serve as a conduit to obtaining the information.

    Of course, if journalists have questions about something they didn’t see, didn’t hear or didn’t understand, they certainly always can ASK the appropriate party, whether it’s the track, the rider, the trainer, the vet or whomever. There’s no substitute for a little investigative legwork.

  8. MH: same with me and the jockey fight. Watched the Marathon outside with a friend, then went to my new favorite CD spot (bar/pari-mutuel area behind section 313). We were watching replay after replay of the incident that precipitated the inquiry, and all of sudden, over Twitter and text messages, came news of a jockey fight. Never saw any of it on the track feed.

    Leslie, I’m not sure that those same principles would apply at a racetrack. Owners, trainers, and jockeys (and of course horses) aren’t employees of the track, but it’s definitely the responsibility of the communications office to report on them and provide information. To what extent is arguable, but the nature of the racetrack would require that its press office go beyond reporting on its employees.

  9. I understand your perspective, Teresa, but I don’t think any thing about the racetrack’s operations “requires” that they comment or report on activities of those whose actions are not within their jurisdiction. Ultimately, it’s their call on whether they choose to speak publicly about those events/actions. In many cases, they’d be well advised not to comment or report and leave that to those with direct responsibility for regulating the parties involved.

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