When it comes to handicapping, few can do it better than ABC

Media Watch

May 15, 1998|By Milton Kent

If the past is an accurate indicator, at some point after tomorrow's ABC telecast of the Preakness, you'll see the winner in an isolated replay. If the winner happens to be one of the favorites, like Kentucky Derby runner-up Victory Gallop or pre-Preakness choice Coronado's Quest, you'll say, well, it makes sense that the network would put a camera on a favorite.

The funny thing is, the ABC production crew, led by producer Curt Gowdy Jr. and associate producer Steve Nagler have developed a knack for finding horses that weren't exactly supposed to be a part of the action.

In 1982, for instance, off a tip from Nagler a little-known horse named Gato Del Sol got a camera all his own, and won the Derby, a formula that repeated itself in 1990 when Unbridled, another relative long shot, won.

Two weeks ago, Nagler saw that the Churchill Downs track was looking particularly good on the inside, and he persuaded Gowdy 40 minutes before air to train a camera's sights on Real Quiet, who went off at 8-1 from the inside. Sure enough, the Bob Baffert entry came home a winner.

How did Nagler know? He just listened to what Baffert, who also brought Indian Charlie, the pre-race favorite, had been saying all week leading up to the Derby.

"Bob Baffert was talking early on about how good Indian Charlie was, but he also had Real Quiet there. I've learned that in those situations to doubly look at the second horse," Nagler said. "If Indian Charlie was so great, why is he running another horse?"

Gowdy said: "Ultimately, I have to make the final call, but there have been several times when I've scratched my head and turned to Steve and said, 'What do you think?' He'll give me that latest up-to-date information that could aid you in making the correct decision. That knowledge is absolutely invaluable to our telecast."

Nagler, who joined the network in 1979 and was Jim McKay's first researcher on ABC racing telecasts, says there's no real formula for selecting who will get an isolated camera during a Triple Crown race.

"You can't just do all the favorites. But beyond that, the question is: Did we tell some compelling story on the show that you would really look foolish afterward if you didn't follow the horse," Nagler said. "If we've made somebody care about a horse, then I'm probably thinking that we should follow him in the race."

The network is being understandably coy beyond announcing that it plans to have features on Baffert's wife and brother, ex-Maryland standout Kent Desormeaux, who will ride Real Quiet, and Coronado's Quest. Gowdy also won't say where the four or five isolated cameras will go before the race.

You'll just have to watch.

McKay and Al Michaels will an- chor tomorrow's coverage with analysis from Charlsie Cantey and Dave Johnson, who also will call the race. Lesley Visser will report from around the track, with coverage beginning at 4: 30 p.m.

Around the track

It's a full couple of days of Preakness-related programming, both on television and radio.

Channel 2, the station that will carry the race, has a one-hour special, "Preakness Pride," tonight at 8 o'clock, with a look at all the preceding festivities and a preview of tomorrow's race. The station then signs on from the track at 8 a.m. tomorrow with continuing coverage until ABC takes over, and Keith Mills will anchor a one-hour wrap-up at 11: 35 p.m. tomorrow.

We can only pray that gratuitous shots of anchors cheering on horses that they've wagered on, as well as pictures of drunken stooges in the infield, will be kept to an absolute minimum -- if they must be shown at all.

Meanwhile, Channel 13, which has won a number of Emmys for its pre-race specials, returns with "Riders Up" and host John Buren at 7: 30 tonight. The show is expected to include a feature on a woman who performs massages and acupressure on horses, as well as a story on two longtime track veterans, trainer George Mohr and publicist Joe Kelly.

ESPN's brand will be all over the Preakness as well, starting with a 90-minute special, "2Day at Pimlico," this afternoon at 3: 30 p.m. on ESPN2, followed by live coverage of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at 5 p.m. on ESPN. The latest ESPN acquisition, Classic Sports, will present "Run for the Crown," and a round-table discussion program with handicappers at 11 o'clock ESPN2 tonight. On race day, ESPN2 will air "Breakfast at Pimlico," a behind-the-scenes preview of the day ahead which is carried live at 8 a.m. and repeated over the next four hours. ESPN has a two-hour special at noon, and ESPN2 takes over for 90 more minutes at 3 p.m.

On the radio, WBAL (1090 AM) will have Dave Durian, Jim West and Chick Lang stationed at the jockey's terrace at the finish line to anchor the station's coverage, starting at 11 a.m. WJFK (1300 AM) has a team of Ken Rosenthal, Bruce Cunningham, Tom Matte and Stan "The Fan" Charles that also will go live from the track, starting at 10 a.m.

Pub Date: 5/15/98

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