11/02/2011 2:13PM

Breeders' Cup: Jockeys permitted to make pre-race comments to TV reporters


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Jockeys in Breeders’ Cup races will continue to be allowed to make pre-race comments to television reporters during this year’s two-day event, one year after comments made by jockey John Velazquez about the pre-race condition of his mount Life At Ten led to an investigation and consideration of charges against the rider and the state’s chief steward.

Stewards at Churchill Downs agreed to continue to allow the practice – which was supported by the production team responsible for Breeders’ Cup coverage, management at Churchill Downs, and the Breeders’ Cup – after a meeting of the parties Wednesday morning, according to John Veitch, Kentucky’s chief state steward.

“They felt it was a good idea and that it would enhance the coverage,” Veitch said. “It’s at the jockey’s discretion. If he wants to be miked up, and they want to mike him up, then it’s up to him.”

Mike McQuade, executive producer of the broadcast team for ABC and ESPN, said that the stewards had not asked that any restrictions be applied to the pre-race jockey interviews, which are typically conducted by the reporters on horseback as jockeys take their horses to the gate.

“As a viewer, it gets you closer to what’s going on and gets a viewer someplace that he doesn’t normally get to go,” McQuade said.

Five minutes prior to post time of the Ladies’ Classic last year, Velazquez told television commentators that the filly “was not warming up like she normally does.” Life At Ten was subsequently eased out of the gate and was quickly distanced, finishing last as the second-choice, setting off a controversy over whether the filly should have been ordered scratched.

The incident led to a two-month investigation by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which initially charged Veitch and Velazquez with possible violations of the rules of racing. Velazquez paid a $10,000 fine without admitting to any wrongdoing, but Veitch has vigorously contested the charges, which remain pending.

Many stewards are leery of allowing jockeys to make pre-race comments because of the ability of riders to influence betting on a race, intentionally or not. Veitch also had complained following last year’s Breeders’ Cup that stewards had not been invited to a pre-production meeting before the event, and he contended that the stewards would have brought up their concerns with the broadcast of pre-race comments at that time.

Two weeks ago, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced that one of its officials will monitor the television broadcast of this year’s Breeders’ Cup and all walkie-talkie communications between racing personnel, in an attempt to ensure that concerns about a horse’s well-being are communicated to the appropriate personnel. The Life At Ten investigation had revealed that many officials who were capable of examining the filly had not been made aware of Velazquez’s comments, though veterinary officials also said that the filly was not showing any outward signs of physical distress.

Like last year, television coverage of the races on Friday and Saturday will be provided by the ESPN family of channels. On Friday, coverage will be provided by ESPN2, beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern, 10 minutes prior to the first of six Breeders’ Cup races that day, and will run through 8 p.m., 30 minutes after the scheduled post time of the Ladies’ Classic.

On Saturday, coverage will begin on ABC at 2 p.m., too late for live coverage of the day’s first Breeders’ Cup race, the Marathon, and two minutes prior to post for the second Breeders’ Cup race, the Juvenile Turf. At 3:30 p.m., coverage will switch to ESPN and run through 7:15 p.m. The post time of the last race of the day, the Classic, is scheduled for 7 p.m.

The Marathon will be shown live on Television Games Network.