Let's have a rousing round of applause for the absolute worst coverage to date of a Kentucky Derby by NBC!
But first, lest I turn out a piece of work as awful as they did, let me record that for the first time in 74 years, a gelding won the Kentucky Derby on May 3rd, 2003. His name is Funny Cide, a New York bred horse (indeed, the first New York bred horse to win the Derby ever) and was ridden by jockey Jose Santos. At odds of 12 to 1, Funny Cide beat out the stablemates Empire Maker (who was the favorite but came in second) and Peace Rules, who came in third.
What else has Funny Cide done? Don't know, NBC didn't cover any of his prior races! Who was his trainer? Don't know, NBC didn't have time to cover it! What did the horse look like, was he tall or small or lean or robust? Don't know, NBC didn't think that LOOKING AT THE RACE ENTRIES was important!!
Derby coverage on the West Coast here is always poor. Sadly, Californians by and large just don't get into the Triple Crown races like Back Easterners do. But even the Modesto Bee had three articles this past week in its sports section,which despite containing mistakes and inaccuracies, still managed to provide more information than the hour of pre-race coverage NBC monopolized. Mostly what I am interested in knowing when I'm about to watch the most famous horse race in the world is horse, horse, horse! I want to know what the horse looks like, how he acts in the stable (usually it's males who run in the Derby, I'm not being a chauvinist), who he's been up against and what they looked like running against each other. I want to know the color of the jockey's silks so that I can tell which bay thoroughbred is which on the outside turn of the track. I want to know about how each horse runs -- does he set a sizzling pace from the outset or is he a come-from-behind demon who needs room to power up?
Instead of meaty, juicy information like that, NBC coverage was limited to blurry interviews of the trainer Bobby Frankel, whose horse Empire Maker was the runaway favorite of bettors. Frankel has been in the horse business for several million years but had never had one of his horses win the Kentucky Derby, and so NBC thought that since Empire Maker was sure to win the prestigious race (even though the horse had been slightly injured by a bruised hoof not long ago), they concentrated (you couldn't use the word "focused" by any means) on hyping the event as "Finally, Frankel's Derby". When NBC wasn't doing screamy, shallow interviews of Frankel, the news team slunk around famous winning trainers Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, sniffing for photogenic tidbits and scoops, but not providing any, because the Baffert and Lukas horses were nobodies this year.
Bob Baffert got more coverage on the air than any other trainer in commercial time, as he's begun endorsing some brand of blue jeans.
Not wishing to get anywhere near an actual horse, NBC gave significant amounts of air time to its own reporters, who gave their personal thoughts and predictions on who would win the Kentucky Derby. Now, I have to wonder if any of them have ever been at a race to watch it, or even know which end of a horse points forward, because it wasn't apparent from listening to them. I didn't want to look at some ill-favored chump nodding like a bobble-head and blathering about what he (or she) hurriedly scraped together as quasi-information that morning to fill air time, I wanted to hear about the ... did we forget them, NBC? ...horses!
Speaking of "she's", the most humorous incident in the horrid tedious hour occurred when a woman reporter named "Charlsie" held up a horse's blinker mask to try to explain that horses who are easily distracted wear the mask with 'blinkers' attached so that they can only see what's in front of them. However, her explanation was utterly lost as she sported the item in front of her and accidentally made the big eye holes of the mask frame each of her breasts as she talked. And her referring to the "blinkers" as "small cups" did nothing to dampen the hilarity of the inadvertent gag.
A small amount of reporting time was given to a competing horse named Buddy Gil, who was about fourth in the betting statistics. Buddy Gil was unusual, they said, because he was a gelding, and no gelding had won the Kentucky Derby since 1929. Why haven't there been other gelding winners, and what is a gelding? NBC's coverage of that issue was limited to sophomoric twittering and giggles, rather than admit that a gelding is a male whose testicles have been removed either to make him more tractable or because his breeding is so crummy the owners don't plan on perpetuating it. NBC could have mentioned that intact males tend to be more competitive, and that stud fees for even Derby hopefuls bring in lots of cashola for the owners, but they didn't, of course.
Winding up the crappy coverage of the upset victory of Funny Cide, NBC went out as it came in, with really poor photography of the horse wearing the traditional blanket of roses in the winner's circle, and insipid reporting of the future prospects of the triumphant New York gelding -- never bothering to ask, will the speedy fellow run in the next race in the Triple Crown or not? Will his speed keep him in front for the sprinting pace of the Preakness in two weeks? And will the determined surge of power Funny Cide showed on the home stretch carry him the extra difference in the long race of the Belmont which follows that? And when will somebody realize that NBC has the worst coverage of sports in the history of television?
For real information about the Kentucky Derby, check out http://www.kentuckyderby.com/2003/
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