Jockey livens up NBC's telecast

ON MEDIA

May 18, 2008|By RAY FRAGER

Kent Desormeaux had his own Howard Dean moment after Big Brown's dominating Preakness victory yesterday.

Voicing over a replay of the race while being interviewed by NBC, Desormeaux described the moment when he eased off the brakes so Big Brown could pull away: "I just let him go. Bye-bye! Woooooo!"

The jockey's high spirits permeated NBC's telecast, even before the race. Interviewed back in the jockeys' room by Bob Costas, Desormeaux was articulate, good-humored and obviously excited. Costas ended the interview by deadpanning that perhaps Desormeaux could show a little enthusiasm. Just before Desormeaux boarded Big Brown, NBC's cameras caught him jabbering with trainer Rick Dutrow, all smiles and nervous energy.

And afterward, Desormeaux told everyone how much it meant to win in "Maryland, my Maryland," how being at Pimlico was as comfortable as "walking into my mother's house."

In however many years it is that Desormeaux hangs up his tack, one of the networks would do well to put him behind a microphone.

Some other highlights of NBC's two-plus-hour telecast:

The roundtable discussion about problems facing horse racing didn't generate much heat, though New York Times columnist William Rhoden clearly was there to serve as something of an agent provocateur. Rhoden did get a bit of a rise out of NBC analyst and former jockey Gary Stevens when he offered a comparison of the breeding of horses with the bulls used in bullfighting. "How can you compare thoroughbred horse racing to death sports?" Stevens said, his voice rising. " ... We're breeding to kill?"

Track veterinarian Larry Bramlage made cogent points about how the racing industry gets its best athletes out of the game too soon - "We've inadvertently awarded the big performance with early retirement" - and about how starting to race thoroughbreds at age 3 instead of 2 did not make medical sense as far as their development. "We're not rushing," Bramlage said, "we're going the other way."

After the discussion, National Thoroughbred Racing Association head Alex Waldrop said in an interview with Costas that his organization - the closest the industry has to a governing body - expects to have steroid use in horses banned throughout the United States by next year. (Later, Dutrow, who is well-known for regularly giving his horses steroids, told NBC he would have no problem abiding by whatever rules were in place.)

And here's a new phrase to enter the sporting lexicon, uttered a few times, referring to horses bred to run fast at a young age - "precocious speed."

While Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumeier gave their choices for the Preakness, Battaglia noted the rowdy crowd nearby with the name of one of the horses in the race: "I think Tres Borrachos ["three drunks"] are behind us now. ... We're getting a lot of flak."

A quick thought: If the industry is concerned that racehorses don't have the stamina they once did, somebody might want to consider breeding "Hank" from that Budweiser commercial. He looks pretty tough.

NBC's cameras got blocked a couple of times. After the race, when Neumeier went from interviewing Dutrow to owner Mike Iavarone, the network lost sight of them for a bit. Later, on the winner's stand, Dutrow was briefly hidden while Battaglia talked to him.

NBC gave a short look - probably about what they warranted - at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protesters who were outside the track.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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