01/24/2012 11:19AM

Watchable Racing


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.

Mike Wolfington More than 1 year ago
First- Racing needs to fix itself. We all watched management in the Chicago Breeders Cup allow insiders to steal the pick six. We all watched Life at Ten broadcast (To TV Only. not to betters) that he wasn't going to run, and we all watched Goldiva foul half the field last year, and not get disqualified! Why are you people hung up on camera angles? Can't you see the empty grandstands?
larry More than 1 year ago
This is a bad deal for most of us. Only the Classic is on NBC. All the other races will be on Versus(NBC sports network now). I have DISH top 120,and Versus is not in the package. You know that TVG and HRTV will not be allowed to show the races live. I miss you ESPN!!! Streaming Video is the only way left!!!!
kelso13 More than 1 year ago
Mike, You are exactly right.The pan shot is the only way to watch a race.I also like the Traxus system being used at Gulfstream, Woodbine and Keeneland.You always know where you horse is.
Perplexed Punter More than 1 year ago
A bit off topic, but a televised National Pick Six Guaranteed to $1 Million every other Saturday would pull in the viewers/bettors. The whole thing could packaged into an hour with feeds from three tracks.
Ryan in So Cal More than 1 year ago
To Vincin in socal…..First off Charter is not the biggest cable company in Los Angeles, Time Warner is. Secondly Charter has the NBC Sports Network in every market in Los Angeles. For example in Pasadena it is channel 410. You may not have realized this as they recently changed the name from Versus to NBC Sports Network. I don't really understand all the complaining. If your a big horse racing fan you already probably pay a little extra for TVG and HRTV, NBC Sports Network should be on the same sports tier.
timi ruffett More than 1 year ago
You forgot to mention the terrible post parades that we have at the eastern tracks. Photo shoot 101 do not take pictures with sun or snow in the background. If I can't see the horses I don't bet the race.....timi
michael More than 1 year ago
Bring back the days of Tom Hammond and Dick Enberg.
Bryan McGuire More than 1 year ago
My 2 cents: 1. Bloodlines. Show clips of some of the great horses in the family trees of that day's contenders (AP Indy, Dynaformer, El Prado, Gate Dancer, Seattle Slew...) Perhaps also a quick commentary on the three original Arabian sires, and which one today's contenders is descended from. The sport has blood lines tracked back 300 years, and I think this would provide additional value to viewers. 2. Reality Handicapping with a close-up of the form, explaining what either the experts are looking at, or members of the betting public are using. For example - the handicapper could present a race with ample speed in it and paint a picture of how the race will play out, based on the form - I think this will help unravel whatever "mystery" that masses associate to handicapping. I've seen this done without the form, but I think it will be more enlightening to the potential bettors if the form were the basis for this. I always tell people that it's like a crossword puzzle, with a little nugget of gold in there. 3. Where are they now? Perhaps after showing the highlights of the bloodlines, we could be treated to a "where are they now" of such greats as Giant's Causeway, Zenyatta, Curlin, Rags to Riches, Street Sense, etc
Brian T More than 1 year ago
I agree! The constant shifting of camera angles and perspectives during a race makes network racing unwatchable. This past year I watched the Breeders Cup at Aqueduct,where the TV screens showed the TVG broadcast.What a difference I noticed when I returned home to watch my tape of the ESPN\ABC coverage of the race! (And for this they win an Eclipse Award?!?!?!) Blimp shots are great for replays with a good analyst like Jerry Bailey,Gary Stevens or Randy Moss;but using them live? You might as well be watching a cockaroach race.I won't even mention the ground level Hoof-Eye views. I fell in love with racing in the late 60's early 70's as a child watching CBS and local NYC coverage which treated viewers with respect;which educated one and explained the sport without talking down to the audience. If I were a youngster today,watching this coverage,I don't know if I'd be a horseplayer today.The problem is racing is the networks sports ghetto,where they stick Producers who have neither knowledge or respect for the sport. I hope for improvement but am not optimistic.
Steve Hewlett More than 1 year ago
I'm with you - the multi camera angle thing during the race is a major distraction and detraction from the viewing experience. Also, odds updates in the last 5-10 minutes prior to post should be frequent so that the home viewer can get more of a feel of what is happening at the track. And, knowledgeable analysis of each horse's past performances and running style would be nice. On the plus side, it is nice that NBC is going to carry the BC Classic.