Dive into Derby pool, 'cause it's wide-open field in Louisville

The TV Repairman

April 30, 1993|By Phil Jackman

Perhaps the best investment this weekend is not the stock market, mutual funds, an IRA or a CD, but the old office pool for the Kentucky Derby tomorrow.

"About 15 horses could win it," says Curt Gowdy Jr., producer for ABC's telecast of the big chase beginning at 4:30 p.m., and host Jim McKay agrees.

In fact, McKay goes so far as to suggest a "field" horse could get up for the garland of roses "since the tote board can only handle 12 entries and anything beyond that goes into what they call the field entry. It wouldn't surprise me if those horses ended up as fourth or fifth [favorite] in the betting."

In his seventh year as the man calling the shots, Gowdy says he has learned to look upon the Derby's huge fields (19 go postward tomorrow) as "not being tougher to cover, but creating more of a challenge. There are so many horses and people involved that it becomes fun for us to try to bring everyone, including the once-a-year fan, up to date."

"This is one day in particular," says McKay, "when we try not to use all the inside phrases of racing. It's vital to appeal to everyone since the Derby is part of people's lives, an annual thing that probably takes you back to maybe first hearing in on the radio. It's part of the passage of time."

Time is one thing Gowdy is thankful he has in grade in that it has taught him "it's the unexpected we expect." Consequently, the telecast will not be overloaded with features on the two top horses, their trainers, owners, exercise boys and jockeys, but with general topics covering the entire field.

"Who would have expected Bill Shoemaker to win on Ferdinand a couple of years ago? Or how about Winning Colors going wire-to-wire? Or Alysheba winning after that stumble coming out of the gate? Those things have taught us to be ready for anything," says Gowdy, while upholding his tradition of never revealing which of the late runners will draw the attention of his three isolated cameras.

So, with a wide-open Derby in prospect, don't despair if you drew a long shot in the pool. Remember, Rockamundo paid $218 while winning the Arkansas Derby recently.

Action from Churchill Downs begins at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow with ESPN doing three races live, two on tape and a live cut-in from the Virginia Gold Cup Steeplechase in Great Meadow, Va.

* Jim Valvano used to kid when he started his coaching career at Johns Hopkins, "basketball was secondary; I was there to sell tickets to the lacrosse games." You can bet he was good at that, too.

In a relatively short stretch working in TV, the former N.C. State coach showed a feel and ability for the medium that few newcomers can match, and the hope is that subsequent studio and color analysts will follow his lead. It was all fun to Jimmy V right up to the time bone cancer took him Wednesday, years too early at 47.

* When the NHL named Gary Bettman commissioner a while back, the intention was that he would lead them into the bright, lucrative world of network television and teach them how to market hockey. The man who probably should have been given the job is Vince McMahon.

Judging from the end of the annual early eviction of the Washington Capitals from the Stanley Cup playoffs on Channel 20 Wednesday night, the brain behind the World Wresling Federation could do wonders promoting Dale Hunter as the no-account bad guy.

Whacking Islanders star Pierre Turgeon from behind three seconds after he has scored a goal resulting in a separated shoulder was bad enough, but for Hunter to later plead that it was "a good play" was so WWF-like, it's scary. Those shenanigans are a put-on, this was for real.

Hunter's actions, called "disgraceful and distasteful" by New York coach Al Arbour, were worse than that as duly chronicled by the four replays Channel 20 provided. This plus coach Terry Murray taking the easy way out and refusing all comment is just the latest indication of how much the Capitals have slipped in the class department since the days of Bryan Murray and Rod Langway. Those guys wanted to win as much as anyone, but they lost with dignity.

* Terrific move by the NBA, agreeing to a new four-year, $750 million deal with NBC the day the playoffs started yesterday. In addition to garnering a hefty 25 percent increase in the rights fees, the league made sure it was first in line at a network vault before football and baseball show up with their outrageous demands on a depressed advertising market.

Not only has the NBA's wedding with NBC been a dramatic success despite defections from some games by affiliates like Channel 2, the league has gained greatly from the work of its cable partner, TNT.

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