By MARK HOFFMAN
For The Recorder
This week, we once again look back at the Breeders' Cup championship day with the feature race of the card -- the Breeders' Cup Classic, which was showcased in primetime television on NBC. After a day of somewhat fragmented coverage on the NBC Sports Network, the biggest race of the year was presented in a rather different and interesting way.
Now the "hardcore" gamblers like myself and my friends on E-Street just want to see the racing coverage from a wagering point of view. The "fluff" that surrounds Kentucky Derby coverage the first Saturday in May is one thing. Generally, the Derby has a wider audience from the years of that race being the most recognized thoroughbred event of the year. It showcases the 3-year old runners trying something that some may never do again, race the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. The 20 runners are equal in may ways and the stories from how each got there are interesting. But, when it comes to the older handicap horses racing in the Breeders' Cup Classic, these horses already have a story from their races during the year in handicap and stakes events.
Did we really need Access Hollywood's Billy Bush doing a silly pre-show focusing on celebrity interviews with zany stories that rather poked fun at thoroughbred racing on a big stage. Or adding E! News' Catt Sadler also doing celebrity interviews and reports from the Breeders' Cup purple carpet? Now, I have no problem with Toni Braxton singing the national anthem, but I really could have done without Kristin Chenoweth singing, the Breeders' Cup anthem, "The Best is Yet to Come," when the horses entered the track. First, I didn't know that the Breeders' Cup had a theme song and second, what was the purpose for a song anyway? There have been 29 runnings of the classic, none of them need a song before, why now?
I'm an old school type when it comes to the way longstanding sport events are presented. Whether it's Major League Baseball playoffs with just the divisional winners and no Wild Card or just 64 teams -- no more -- vying for NCAA Basketball Championship. Just present the event the way it's always been done, without all the pomp and circumstance to attract other viewers. The viewer base just wants to see the races. Both NBC and ABC have sacrificed races before the Belmont Stakes in years past for all the fluff. The Manhattan Handicap was excluded from the broadcast and never seen because of other less important and insignificant non-race stories.
I guess in today's environment, the networks need all the non-essential stuff to give thoroughbred racing the time of day. But even with it, this year's Breeders' Cup viewership was down significantly. This isn't good for the sport on the big stage of presentation. With technology on the Internet, maybe watching thoroughbred racing for the hardcore players like me on network television isn't needed anymore. But, it's my opinion that the way NBC showed this year's classic race will not draw more people to the sport. And, unfortunately, I see the coverage of thoroughbred racing on the major networks decreasing in the future if the ratings continue to fall. Much like the extended Saratoga race meet of the past few years, the fans come and watch for one reason. That's for the wagering, not for the other fluff.