Derby coverage will have viewers seeing stars

on media

May 04, 2007|By RAY FRAGER

For this year's Kentucky Derby, NBC has added a half-hour to its telecast. Tomorrow's Derby programming begins at 4:30 p.m. (WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4) with the Kentucky Derby Red Carpet Special.

Yes, that's red carpet as in the celebrity- and fashion-filled coverage you've come to know and love from any number of entertainment awards shows.

NBC has imported Access Hollywood's Shaun Robinson to patrol the carpet. Just a hint for her: Horses are notoriously bad interviews.

And now we have Tiago's mother, Set Them Free, who's here to see her son run in the Derby. Just one question: You had another son, Giacomo, win the Derby two years ago, but he and Tiago have different fathers. Just how many studs have you been with?

NBC producer Sam Flood said in a conference call yesterday: "It's going to be a hybrid red carpet show" - hybrid? they'll be driving Priuses? - "The stars are here to see the equine stars."

Flood said planned features include having analyst Mike Battaglia accompany a celebrity to the betting window for his or her Derby picks and a piece by reporter Donna Barton Brothers on the fashion of jockey silks. (Those checks are so not slenderizing.)

How about the race itself? Battaglia said he would bet Circular Quay and Street Sense.

"It's really tough for me to separate the two," Battaglia said. He was leaning toward Circular Quay to win, Battaglia said, because trainer Todd Pletcher, with five horses in the race, put John Velazquez in the saddle.

Fellow analyst Bob Neumeier went with Hard Spun. "He's my best educated guess. ... He's got the speed and the shiftiness" needed at Churchill Downs.

Last year's winner, the late Barbaro, will be looming over the Derby like the blimp NBC employs for overhead shots. His impressive victory and the stirring story of his Preakness injury and eight-month battle for survival still resonate beyond Triple Crown fans.

Flood said: "There will clearly be references weaved through the broadcast ... but not at the expense of the horses running in the race."

Host Tom Hammond said though "it's no question the injury was upsetting," he doesn't expect viewers to be turned off to horse racing by what happened to Barbaro.

"The outpouring of love [during Barbaro's treatment at the New Bolton Center] will have the opposite effect."

Jockey-turned-analyst Gary Stevens said: "Any press is good press. ... It brought horse racing to the center of attention for a few months."

Stevens, who is featured prominently in NBC's Barbaro: A Nation's Horse, which airs tomorrow night at 8, said: "Being a jockey for 27 years, I've been around traumatic injuries before, [but] I was touched in a different way. ... The will and the strength of his desire to live matched his desire on the racetrack."

Hammond, who recalled seeing tears in Stevens' eyes at Pimlico Race Course after Barbaro broke his leg in the Preakness, said he was surprised at how many people grew attached to Barbaro, but "we live in times when there aren't many inspiring stories."

Cursed

For a new channel, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network has made quite an impression already on YouTube. First, it was the clip of Orioles announcer Gary Thorne's claim - since retracted - that the famous Curt Schilling bloody sock was staged. Earlier this week, the site featured Amber Theoharis' interview with a fan who decided to drop an obscenity on live television.

During the Orioles' April 26 game at home, Theoharis was among a group of fans on a company outing and asked whether they were enjoying themselves. One guy told her he was having a terrific time, but used an inappropriate adjective.

"I was just shocked," Theoharis said yesterday. On the air, her face registered that surprise and she said, "Wow," before regaining her composure. "I was just thinking, `Keep going, keep going.' ... I just tried to smooth things over."

It is not clear why the offending word made it onto the air. Orioles games are televised on a delay, which presumably would keep bad language from being heard. A MASN spokesman, contacted Tuesday, had not called back by last night.

By yesterday, the clip with Theoharis was gone from YouTube, replaced by a message that said: "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Mid-Atlantic Sports Network."

ray.frager@baltsun.com

Top-rated sports

Highest-rated sports programming for Baltimore for April 25-May 1 (ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program):

Program Date Ch. Rating

Orioles-Red Sox 4/26 MASN 4.5

Orioles-Red Sox 4/25 MASN 4.1

NASCAR 4/29 45 4.0

Orioles-Indians 4/28 MASN 3.6

Orioles-Tigers 4/30 MASN 3.5

Orioles-Tigers 5/1 MASN 2.9

Spurs-Nuggets 4/28 ESPN 2.8

Suns-Lakers 4/29 2 2.6

Poker 5/1 11 2.5

NASCAR preview 4/29 45 2.3

[Nielsen ratings courtesy of WBAL-TV]

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