10/21/2013 11:45PM

Triumph Over Common Sense

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This is funny. Not ha-ha funny, like “Blazing Saddles” campfire scene funny. But sad funny, without real harmful consequences, and stupidly embarrassing to no good end. It started on Sunday, innocently enough, like this:

“ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Conan O'Brien will be behind the mic on Friday, just not at his desk on the set of his late-night talk show. The funny man will call a horse race at Santa Anita under the watchful eye of long-time track announcer Trevor Denman. O'Brien will describe the second race at the host track for next month's Breeders' Cup, the richest event in thoroughbred racing.”

So far so good, but then the Associated Press, touting its own item, tweeted this:

And away they go: Conan O'Brien to call horse race for next month's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita.

…which was picked up as Twitter gospel and morphed into this:

“ARCADIA, Calif. (KABC) --  Late-night TV host Conan O’Brien has a side gig scheduled for next week: He’ll be calling the Breeder’s Cup at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia on November 1.”

…which was news to Breeders’ Cup officials, no matter where you put the apostrophe. Then it finally went full mutant with this, by Charlotte Alter on the TIME Entertainment website:

“Conan O’Brien is in the saddle for the Breeder’s Cup, one of the biggest events in thoroughbred racing. The playful late-night comic will call next month’s race at Santa Anita with experienced track-announcer Trevor Denman, who told the Associated Press he would advise O’Brien to “try to have fun with it.” Conan’s never had fun with anything in his life, so this should be good.”

That’s as far as it got, but it’s still pretty far afield. Santa Anita management should count its blessings. Had TMZ gotten hold of the story it would have eventually included Andy Dick, Billy Ray Cyrus and a Kardashian to be named later. Is this a great digital world or what?

I won’t dwell on the sloppy work that went into such a daisy chain of misinformation. We all make mistakes, although there should be merciful dispensation these days for those who at least make original mistakes and do not simply pass along the journalistic blunders of others without a second thought. Or a phone call.

The real problem – and stop me if you’ve heard this lament before – is with the growing practice of novelty acts in the announcer’s booth and celebrities slumming as faux Trevors. I’ve grown weary of enumerating how many ways this is a bad promotional stunt, how wrong it can go, and how it demeans the gambling blood sport to which the celebri-call is attached. Racetrack marketers think it’s a cute twist on the mundane that will get them positive exposure where they normally would not. And they are right…right up to the time a horse bolts into a temporary rail or clips heels and tosses a jock or does something infinitely worse. Then lets see how fast the rock of good publicity sinks to the bottom of the media pond.

By all means, get Conan O’Brien to the races. A cooler guy you could not want. Let him drive the buggy, bet with both fists, sort silks, toot the bugle, muck out a stall. Better yet, have him bring out his old runningmate and unleash him on an unsuspecting Santa Anita crowd. That ought to make the evening news. Just be careful where you step.