ABC trips over words, not pictures 119TH PREAKNESS


May 22, 1994|By RAY FRAGER

So the Preakness gets under way, and there's this one horse who must have thought he left his lights on, because he makes a right turn and heads for the reserved parking lot on Rogers Avenue.

If you had your program in front of you, you could have guessed that the wayward horse was Numerous, out of the No. 10 post. Otherwise, if you were just Joe or Josephine Viewer watching ABC's coverage of the Preakness yesterday, you were on your own.

In fact, it wasn't the best of days for ABC's analyst and race caller, Dave Johnson.

"There's a problem at the start," he said, but we didn't find out the horse was Numerous -- who ended up finishing fifth -- until about 10 minutes after the race.

Earlier, introducing a piece on Ronnie Lamarque, co-owner of Kandaly, Johnson stumbled over his tongue while saying Lamarque's ex-wife had been indicted for attempting to murder him. Johnson said that Andrea Seefeldt was trying to become the first "lady jockey" to win the Preakness. What, she was carrying a parasol and riding sidesaddle?

Johnson also led ABC's cliche post parade. He didn't exactly paint a pretty picture when he said: "They win these races on the racetrack, not the breeding shed." Tabasco Cat's victory, Johnson said, was "a Hollywood ending."

Charlsie Cantey, perhaps not having recovered from being called "Chelsea" by trainer Jack Van Berg, said after the race: "Finally, racing is a game of intangibles that comes down to desire to win."

Jack Whitaker, whose essays once were a highlight of ABC's coverage, offered: "Horsemen live on hope." (That followed Whitaker's earlier pick of Go For Gin to win, conveyed in painful song.)

I lost track of how many times before the race someone said that Go For Gin was the only horse with a chance to win the Triple Crown.

Even the owners got into the spirit. William Condren, co-owner of Go For Gin, said just before post time: "A horse race is a horse race."

That it is, Mr. Condren, and when it comes to showing the race itself, ABC really shines. The pictures were typically outstanding. In particular, the cablecam provided what must be the best shots of a Preakness backstretch ever seen on television.

Head-on pictures were just as revealing, as were the isolation shots on winner Tabasco Cat. In fact, the good camera work on the winner began before the race, when he was caught being "fractious as always" in Al Michaels' words, bucking as he was being saddled.

The best sounds of the day also came from ABC's production end -- the crisp transmission of thoroughbred hoofs pounding over the dirt.

Before the race, a piece on Go For Gin's trainer, Nick Zito, "a city boy from Long Island" (you want to run that one by me again?), fell flat. Zito, quite a colorful sort, didn't come off as very colorful at all while describing himself and his horse.

The best parts of the Zito feature were replays of his celebrations of Kentucky Derby victories in 1991 with Strike the Gold and two weeks ago with Go For Gin.

"Run for the roses. . . . I love America," he screamed earlier this month. Three years ago, he waved his arms in exultation and the guy next to him in the box got whacked on the nose.

Not all was mindless cliche. Cantey broke down the race simply and clearly, dividing the field into front-runners, stalkers and closers. Jim McKay had an understated tribute to Easy Goer, complete with replay of his stirring stretch run with Sunday Silence in the 1989 Preakness.

And let's give Michaels a discount on his hotel room next time he's in town. Earlier this week, he was effusive in his praise of Camden Yards during an Orioles telecast. Yesterday, after being introduced by McKay, he opened his remarks by saying: "Your hometown is a sparkling jewel today."

The outstanding personality for the day, though, was winning jockey Pat Day, who graciously mentioned several racetrack causes as being deserving of the car awarded him by Chrysler, faultlessly recounted the race on replay and squeezed in best wishes to his family and trainer Jeff Lukas, who was nearly killed when trampled by Tabasco Cat.

"You want to get into this business?" McKay asked Day.

Anybody for Jockey Mike next year?

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