ABC hits daily double with Pimlico Special, Preakness

RADIO -TV

May 14, 1993|By RAY FRAGER

During Preaknesses past, you might have heard about the race within the race. Tomorrow from Pimlico, we get the race before the race.

No, not the search for a parking spot near the track.

ABC's coverage (4:30 p.m., channels 13, 7) kicks off . . . delete that, gotta use a racing metaphor. Let's try again: ABC's coverage gets out of the gate with the Pimlico Special, which has been moved to Preakness Day this year.

This will speed the program considerably, making the pace -- another racing term; you keeping count? -- more like the network's Belmont Stakes show, which includes the Nassau County Stakes.

"We're really pleased this year to have two big races," said Curt Gowdy Jr., ABC's Preakness producer. "It gives us the added dimension of another live race in a 90-minute show."

ABC should be pleased. The network wanted the Pimlico Special as part of its Preakness telecast, Pimlico chairman Joe De Francis said. "It's something we didn't want to do and adamantly opposed," De Francis said earlier this week.

But partly to accommodate ABC and partly to keep the American Championship Racing Series together, Pimlico moved the Special from the week before. "I agreed to the shift on a one-year trial basis only," De Francis said.

After coverage of the Pimlico Special to open the program, ABC plans a feature on Paul Mellon, owner of Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, and a discussion among jockeys Jerry Bailey (Sea Hero) and Mike Smith (Prairie Bayou) and jockey-turned-ABC analyst Steve Cauthen about strategy in the Preakness and at this month's Derby. (Not planned: whether Cauthen has picked up an English accent.)

By then, it's getting close to race time.

In horse racing, unlike other sports, pre-event coverage can't hope to take an in-depth look at every possible winner. Before a football game, for example, a program can cover both teams, on the assumption that one of them will win. (Unless it's a Super Bowl involving the Buffalo Bills or Denver Broncos. Then, you just concentrate on the other team.)

"Everybody expects you to have everything on everybody," Gowdy said. "You can't detail everything, because you don't have that much time."

(Which reminds me of the joke: You can't have everything. And if you did, where would you put it?)

"After the race, there's where it can unfold," said Gowdy, ignoring the bad joke, mostly because I didn't tell it to him. "That's where you're really able to give the viewer an idea of who [the winner] is."

Before the Derby, none of ABC's announcers had an idea that the winner would be Sea Hero, though that certainly doesn't put them in an exclusive group.

Sea Hero wasn't Dave Johnson's pick then -- he took Union City -- and he isn't this time, either.

"I just don't think Sea Hero will win," said Johnson, ABC's race caller and analyst. "His effort in the Derby was just so big, logically I don't think he can win."

Yesterday afternoon, Johnson wasn't ready to pick a winner, but seemed glad to be in Baltimore.

"I love to stop here," he said. "We get away from the carnival atmosphere [in Louisville] and 19-horse fields."

If you were a race caller, you'd want to get away from 19-horse fields, too.

Johnson said a key part of each Preakness is the entries who skipped the Derby.

"There's always the fresh horses," he said. "I think it throws a little bit more speed up front."

Regardless of who wins tomorrow, Johnson said this group of 3-year-olds is not the mediocre crop some have labeled it.

"I don't buy that at all just because the favorites don't win and because there's no Arazi," Johnson said, referring to last year's highly touted European horse, a Derby bust. "Next year, when these horses are 4, they'll be winning the major stakes races."

ABC's racing card

Joining Johnson and Cauthen on the telecast will be Maryland racing ambassador Jim McKay and Al Michaels, who will be co-anchors; Jack Whitaker, who provides distinctive essays; and Charlsie Cantey, who adds analysis. . . . Gowdy said ABC will keep trying until a jockey, trainer and owner agree to let the network use its "jockey cam" during the Triple Crown. How about a "big floppy hat cam" in the crowd?

More racy programming

Channel 13 will present a Preakness special, "Riders Up, Preakness '93," tonight at 7:30. The program was written and co-produced by WJZ sports anchor John Buren, who serves as host. Among Buren's guests will be ex-Oriole Boog Powell -- discussing why he never became a jockey? -- and Baltimore Spirit coach Kenny Cooper, who makes his first effort betting horses. "Riders Up" also will air on Home Team Sports tonight at 9:30 and 11:30 and tomorrow at noon.

Running on your radio dial

WBAL Radio (1090 AM) plans to begin Preakness coverage at 9 a.m. tomorrow, with anchors Jim West, Chick Lang and John Patti. The reports from Pimlico will break at 12:45 p.m. for an Orioles game, then pick up after baseball.

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