01/24/2012 10:19AM

Watchable Racing

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The return of Breeders’ Cup programming to NBC presents a symbolic opportunity for a fresh start in the way thoroughbred racing is broadcast on national television.

Speaking as a racing fan, I think a fresh start is desperately needed. It’s only one man’s opinion, but I think the way racing has been presented on television in recent years has been almost unwatchable.

The big problem – one that I’ve railed against for years – is multiple camera cuts during the running of a race. Frequent camera cuts are jarring and disorienting, even to seasoned race watchers. It makes tracking horses and knowing precisely where the field is on the track difficult, even in an eight or nine horse field. In a 12 or 14 horse Breeders’ Cup field (or, of course, a 20 horse Kentucky Derby field) it makes tracking horses, looking for trips, and anticipating important moves next to impossible.

Beyond directors showing off, or producers feeling they have to justify the number of cameras used on the job, I can’t think of any reason why there has to be so many camera cuts during the running of a race other than possibly this: The attention of neophyte viewers will be better held if shown a dizzying array of camera angles during the race instead of a simple pan shot with maybe two or three cuts to the front runners.

If that is a reason, I think it is a wrongheaded one. We all, of course, hope that nationally televised racing broadcasts will create a bunch of new racing fans. But I can’t imagine having 20 camera cuts during the running of a given race instead of three would actually create even a single new fan. In fact, I think the vast majority of people who tune in to nationally televised racing broadcasts are people who have had prior exposure to the sport. And I believe the core of such viewing audiences are –gasp! – people who actually bet on these races. But unless there is such contempt for the core audience that the network just doesn’t care (oh, they’ll still tune in no matter how we present the product), it just makes no sense to anger and alienate the most loyal viewers by showing a race in a way that makes it so difficult to follow.

There are some good things already on network racing broadcasts. Yes, even jaded horseplayers like human interest features. Owners, trainers, jockeys, and sponsors certainly deserve their moments in the spotlight. And there are a few racing analysts who are worth going out of your way to listen to. But while the way the actual races are presented is what needs fixing the most (and ironically, simplifying the presentation probably involves lower productions costs than the process that prevails now), there are a few other things I would like to see. I would like to see consistent odds updates within the five-minutes-to-post mark. I would like to see payoffs immediately when they become available, and if that means the winner’s circle presentation comes after, so be it. And I would like a complete replay after the winner’s circle presentation is over. If you want to dazzle us with music video-like camera cuts, do it in the replay, not in the live running.