Just as the fog and mist broke around Pimlico yesterday to produce a sunny day, the fog and mist that permeated ABC's coverage of the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago were swept away in an understated, but brilliant production of the Preakness.
The network won as big as Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, who likewise bounced back from a subpar Derby, with exceptional pictures and brilliant words in a lean, but effective telecast.
Producer Curt Gowdy Jr. bore the brunt of a critical beating for not only taking the network away before the Derby winner could be declared, but also for presenting a telecast allegedly unsatisfying for the serious horseplayer.
Gowdy, director Craig Janoff and their crew responded nicely with a smart effort yesterday that was satisfying on all levels and to all people, the big-time handicappers and the casual observers.
Without a Derby winner or a clear favorite to zero in on, Gowdy locked on to solid stories, with good features on the relationship between William T. Young, owner of Derby winner Grindstone, and his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, and on Cavonnier's trainer, Bob Baffert, and owners Robert and Barbara Walter.
Gowdy also wisely turned veteran reporter Charlsie Cantey loose on the story line of the replacement of jockey Pat Day aboard Prince of Thieves, one of three Lukas Preakness horses.
Cantey got both men talking honestly about the decision, and she and Gowdy locked prescient, when Day rode Louis Quatorze to victory, leading to the best replay of the day, as the jockey held five fingers aloft just past the wire symbolizing the five Preaknesses he has won.
The other significant story was the return of Jim McKay to his anchor slot. McKay, who missed last year's Preakness after open-hear surgery, was as solid as ever, with a moving mini-essay on Maryland racing (just before posttime.
If a 2 1/2 -hour pre-game show before the Super Bowl is excessive, then Channel 2's 8 1/2-hour effort before ABC even took the air was he definition of overkill.
The 510 minutes of lead-in, 60 minutes more than last year, is driven, to be sure, by advertiser interest, and no one should deny channel 2 the right to make a buck off an event. Goodness knows, newspapers run race-oriented special sections.
And, of course, if you watched all 8 l/2 hours, you really need to get a life, but, for the viewers' sake, the station could present a better show if it were pared down to 2 1/2 or three hours. That way, we Couldn't get the repetition of features and the all-too-frequent Lapses into inanity, particularly the obsession with women's hats.
Still, the station did a vastly superior job with this year's effort than last, staying more focused on the theme of a day at the races, while taking advantage of a very exuberant reporting staff.
The sports team of Keith Mills and Scott Garceau, who battled technical difficulties all day, were solid as usual. Andy Barth did a fine job of capturing a sense of the hustle, bustle and commerce going on outside the track, as cars and spectators arrived in the early morning. Including elements of Dan Rodricks' Saturday morning program was a good touch.
Inside the track, the spunky Sherry Jones got generally interesting stuff from the stuffed shirts in the corporate village, and Jesse Jones scored twice, with a funny bit in which he took two underdressed fellows into a corporate tent and with a piece in which he revisited a couple who got engaged in the infield last year.
The occasionally over-the-top Jamie Costello was in his element in the grandstand, with a clever interview in the morning with two rather dour Wisconsinites wearing al cheese hats. And Alicia Taylor and Marc Silverstein did well to take infield reporting beyond the predictable stand-up with the drunken college student, though the bits on women rating the looks of men in the infield area seemed a little out of place.
The star of the day was track analyst Kim Goodwin, who was generally on target with her picks.
Most importantly, Goodwin did a terrific job of breaking down the
I often-daunting language of the track to a wide audience. Her explanations of two inquiries were easy to grasp, and Goodwin, funny and telegenic, seems a natural for a network slat some day.
Pub date; 5/19/96