Barbaro's injury brings NBC's broadcast back to reality

ON MEDIA

Preakness Stakes

May 21, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

It was all about Barbaro during NBC's Preakness telecast yesterday - before the race, during the race, after the race.

All indications pointed to another episode of the new series Super Horse. During the opening, Bob Costas asked: "Why is this horse, Barbaro, different?"

Shortly thereafter, it was on to the mythmaking. Footage of Barbaro loping around Fair Hill, shots of his dominating Kentucky Derby victory, trainer Michael Matz extolling the horse's virtues, all set to swelling music. Tom Hammond's voice-over intoned: "Is this the super horse? ... Is this the quietly defiant trainer to lead him?"

But eventually came the race, and the giddy hope of the first Triple Crown winner in 28 years gave way to the dread of wondering if we'd just seen a thoroughbred suffer a fatal injury.

It was a reminder of why sports is truly reality television.

The script certainly didn't call for Barbaro to bust out of the gate early in an equine version of a false start. And no one was expecting the horse to pull up with a broken leg.

Race caller Tom Durkin concentrated on Barbaro, making a chunk of the race an afterthought, but you can't fault him. All eyes were figuratively on the Derby champ after his injury, until it began to dawn on everyone that other horses were still running and someone was going to win this race.

Durkin got back to calling Bernardini's victory, and Donna Barton Brothers interviewed winning jockey Javier Castellano, but we wanted to know what was going to happen to Barbaro. Given the time constraints of the telecast, that was impossible. Still, Bob Neumeier quickly grabbed an interview with the track veterinarian, who initially could only tell us what any viewer could see - this was a serious injury.

Analyst Gary Stevens said he didn't believe the injury had anything to do with the feisty manner the horse displayed before the race or even from his premature bolting from the gate. The ex-jockey did backtrack a little, though, offering that Barbaro could have banged a front knee in breaking through the gate and then was trying to compensate by putting too much pressure on his hind legs once the race began.

Back before the race, though, the mood often was light.

During Costas' interview with Brother Derek's jockey, Alex Solis, he couldn't get an answer on his strategy for the race, noting that Barbaro's rider, Edgar Prado, was sitting nearby in the jockeys room. Costas tried to persuade Solis by turning to an off-screen Prado and saying he wasn't going to listen, was he? No go from Solis. Costas sent it back to Hammond by saying, "That's the kind of investigative journalism I'm known for."

Brothers conducted an interview with Bernardini's trainer, Tom Albertrani, on the walk from the barns to the saddling area while constantly ducking branches, including a couple that got her in the face.

And for example No. 2,358,945 of the misuse of "ironic" on TV (that count from just this year), Hammond said Matz was "ironically" married to the granddaughter of the owner of Assault, who won the Triple Crown in 1946 and was the last horse to have a bigger margin of victory in the Derby than Barbaro. Just a coincidence, folks.

Not to be too hard on Hammond, who can't be expected to carry a Maryland map with him, but he said Sweetnorthernsaint was stabled "just across the county" from Pimlico at Laurel, which actually is a couple of counties and a city line away.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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