Belmont TV Review: Missing the Point

Published in the June 16 issue of The Blood-HOrse
While NBC's Belmont Stakes telecast showed improvement over its Preakness effort, there seems to be a basic flaw in the 90-minute format of these classic productions -- the race comes too late in the show, leaving little time for replays, interviews, and analysis. Couple this with a pre-race hour that feels too often like filler, and the entire package suffers from poor pacing. Move the race forward 10 minutes, show different angles of the running, talk to more participants, and lose the rushing-to-get-off-the-air feel.

The Belmont presentation reached its peak with a striking feature story on jockey Chris Antley, who helped save the life of Charismatic in the 1999 edition after breaking down past the wire in his attempt to win the Triple Crown. Gary Stevens was particularly eloquent remembering his friend, who died last December: "He was the little brother I never had, and it hurts to lose a brother." Antley's widow, Natalie, and their infant daughter provided emotional spark that was real, not schmaltzy.

Otherwise, the telecast was directed with the visual version of a tin ear. As Point Given kicked into gear on the backstretch and race-caller Tom Durkin intoned, "Point Given is making his move," they cut away from a close-up to a weak wide shot. After Point Given crossed the wire, they again cut away, missing Stevens' signal to the heavens honoring Antley. Moments later, completing a grisly trifecta, they cut away just as winning trainer Bob Baffert was about to be congratulated by Penny Chenery, who is synonymous with the event through her ownership of Riva Ridge and Secretariat. They returned from commercial and showed the latter two in replay. Replays, however, don't make magical moments -- live action does.

Besides Point Given, the star of Belmont Day was former President Bill Clinton, who had 70,000 people on-track roaring at his every move. NBC captured none of that excitement, missing a real chance to cross over into some mainstream recognition.

And finally, the Bob Costas Moment of the Day: with admittedly little time until sign-off, his one question to Clinton managed to skirt horse racing altogether. Clinton, who by all indications knows his way around a past performance, gracefully brought the topic back to the horses and the great day at Belmont. A day whose excitement was not sufficiently conveyed by this production.