WHAT A SCARY moment for Jeremy Rose in the Preakness yesterday. And those paying attention to NBC's telecast of the race knew just how scary.
Earlier in its program, NBC told the story of Mike Smith, the Kentucky Derby-winning jockey aboard Giacomo two weeks ago. The piece went back earlier in Smith's career, showing a horrible fall he took into the hedges at Saratoga, breaking his back.
So when Afleet Alex stumbled behind Scrappy T yesterday, practically going to his knees and almost sending Rose flying to the ground, it was one of the few true breath-catching moments you'll see during a sporting event.
Race caller Tom Durkin provided context - pointing out that Scrappy T had drifted out in similar fashion in the Withers Stakes. I lost count of how many replays NBC showed, but the network certainly didn't show too many, and in one of the few faults I found with the presentation, we didn't get to see a replay from the overhead, blimp's-eye view so effective during the Derby.
In fact, one of the telecast's strengths was in its recap of the Derby. Terrific shots illustrated just how far Giacomo swung wide - moving completely out of the picture - before his charge in the Churchill Downs stretch. We saw Noble Causeway squeezed out by two horses and jockey Kent Desormeaux run out of goggles on Greeley's Galaxy and forced out of traffic because he was blinded by flying dirt.
If you had no rooting interest before the race, NBC had you pulling for Giacomo or Afleet Alex by post time. The profile of Smith portrayed a decent fellow who has truly overcome odds as long as his horse's 50-1 in the Derby. And NBC again made the connection between Afleet Alex and the Alex's Lemonade Stand foundation for pediatric cancer research by interviewing the parents of the late Alex Scott, who had set up a stand at Pimlico Race Course.
But it wasn't all tugging at the heartstrings before the race - especially thanks to host Bob Costas. In a never-saw-it-coming moment, Costas ended his interview with Giacomo's owner, Jerry Moss, by whipping out a framed album cover photo. It was from Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream & Other Delights. Alpert, the "A" to Moss' "M" in A&M Records, had put out the hit-laden album in 1965, featuring a model on the cover wearing only whipped cream. Costas asked Moss if he could get Alpert, a hit-making trumpet player, to autograph the cover.
Later, Costas reported from the victory stand, saying how the excitement before the race was building. He asked one of the guards standing sentry over the Woodlawn Vase if he were feeling the thrills. The guard, apparently auditioning for a Buckingham Palace gig, silently stared ahead.
Then it was left to Charlsie Cantey to get off a couple of well-rehearsed lines before the race, referring to the field's stamina with horses "staying as long as a mother-in-law" and how the presence of High Limit and High Fly meant this was "a Hunter Thompson race - everybody's high."
Can we get a rim shot for Charlsie?
Though the Preakness result wasn't an upset, NBC surprised in that it took until just before the race until anyone mentioned the issue of slot machines in Maryland. Even then, at 6:18 p.m., Cantey seemed to be filling time because the start was delayed. In any case, proponents couldn't have been happier with her on-air endorsement of the need for slots to save Maryland racing.
Costas didn't duck the matter on the victory stand, questioning Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. about the Preakness' future in the state. Ehrlich responded with assurances that the Preakness wasn't going anywhere and that the slots initiative eventually would come to fruition.
Still, the rather truncated handling of a complicated issue likely left viewers outside Maryland wondering what this was all about.
What was Channel 11's pre-Preakness show all about? Well, when you are attuned to the general audience rather than just the sports fan - as WBAL clearly was yesterday - you end up going lighthearted. Or maybe just silly.
Three appearances by weatherman Tom Tasselmyer to talk about how nice the weather was. Host Gerry Sandusky joshing with reporter Donna Hamilton about defining the term "gelding." Kate Amara checking out the contents of a woman's purse at a betting window, then asking another for some gum.
But here's the clincher: Hamilton taking a sandwich from a tray bound for a tent in the corporate village. Who was the tray for? The Baltimore Sun.