The National Thoroughbred Racing Association should be embarrassed with its tape-delayed ESPN telecast of the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. I) from Gulfstream Park on Feb. 16.
The show, scheduled for a half-hour from 6-6:30 p.m. (EST), probably was doomed as soon as it became apparent the college basketball game that preceded it was going to run late. The game, which thankfully did not go into overtime, cut out half of the 30 minutes allotted for the racing telecast. Rather than getting additional time at the tail-end of the timeslot, the Fountain of Youth was squeezed into a 15-minute window.
This isn't new. Over the years, horse racing has not carried enough clout at ESPN to prevent similar indignities. Fans of the sport have had to suffer through time overruns from football, car racing, track and field, golf, and yacht racing, among other sports. Apparently, even a Parcheesi tournament would take precedent over a racing telecast whose broadcast time is purchased with Thoroughbred industry dollars.
You would think, then, since it happens so often, that the production team hired by the NTRA would be able to improvise when a telecast is cut short. That was not the case with the Fountain of Youth. This was the most amateurish racing telecast ever done by the NTRA.
Apparently to ensure every member of the on-air talent team had a chance for face time, the production included a needless paddock interview with trainer Kenny McPeek, but then inexplicably cut to a commercial break without showing the post parade. When the telecast resumed, without warning, the horses for the Fountain of Youth broke from the starting gate. Then, following the race and another long break for commercials, the telecast failed to provide the basic information many fans want to know, including the pari-mutuel payoffs.
There are no innovations in these NTRA telecasts on ESPN, and the on-air talent could stand improvement. Former Turf writer Randy Moss is a well-informed racing analyst, but the rest of the current broadcast team--host Jeff Medders and reporter Jeanine Edwards--are not polished and add little to the broadcast.
The good news regarding the ESPN and ESPN2 telecasts is the quantity of programming that will be produced. The Fountain of Youth was the kickoff to the "Citgo Racing to the Kentucky Derby" series, which features nine telecasts from Feb. 16-April 28. Derby week itself will include programming from Churchill Downs on ESPN and ESPN2.
The next "Citgo Series" program on March 10 will air the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) from Fair Grounds and El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) from Golden Gate Fields. The quality of that telecast is bound to improve. It couldn't possibly get any worse. DAY OF CHAMPIONS
There are no major quarrels from this corner on the results of the 2001 Eclipse Award voting, including Point Given's selection as Horse of the Year. It's never satisfying to see the year's best horse sidelined or retired before the Breeders' Cup, as Point Given was following a tendon injury, but that always will be part of the sport.
Point Given's early retirement took some of the relevance out of the new name, Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, since Tiznow's inspiring victory in the day's biggest race, the Classic (gr. I), did not produce a Horse of the Year title. Nevertheless, six winners of Breeders' Cup races were voted champions of their division.
The argument has been made there are a number of important races in November and December after the Breeders' Cup has been run. Those races have little or no impact on Eclipse Award voting. It's time for the industry to consider naming the sport's champions right after its championship day--not three and a half months later.