06/04/2003 12:00AM

Casual fan show's target


ELMONT, N.Y. - David Michaels, the producer of NBC's horse racing broadcasts, including the Triple Crown races and Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, does not apologize for the fact that some of his biggest detractors are horse racing fans.

"This is not a simulcast show," Michaels said during an interview on Wednesday. "Those shows are very well done, and they have a function, but not when millions of people are watching. This is something my mother is going to watch. She tunes into a simulcast show, and she's lost."

The criticism of NBC's coverage over the past decade has consistently come from horseplayers angered over the network's multiple cuts during the race, which makes it difficult for bettors to follow single horses.

Normally, racetracks employ a split screen to broadcast races, using the top half for a wide shot including nearly all the horses in the field and a close shot on the leaders. Racetracks typically do not make cuts during the running of the race, except to drop the wide shot at the top of the stretch, and they do not cut until all the horses have crossed the finish line.

NBC was most recently criticized by horseplayers for the network's decision to cut to a close-up of rider Jose Santos after Funny Cide crossed the finish line before the horses vying for second had finished the race. Horseplayers were left hanging on which of three horses completed the exacta and trifecta until the complete order of finish was shown with the official prices minutes later.

The decision in the Preakness to go to a close-up of Santos was the "right one," Michaels said, because earlier portions of the broadcast had played up Santos's vindication after the Kentucky Derby following a brief investigation as to whether the jockey had carried an illegal electrical device in the race.

In the Preakness, after Santos crossed the line, he held up an open hand to show he was holding nothing. NBC got the shot live.

"We had spent 90 minutes going through what had happened to the jockey, what had happened to his family, what had happened to the owners and trainers, and so we were supposed to stay for two seconds to get the horses crossing the finish line 10 lengths back?" Michaels said. "I want to see the shot of Jose Santos as he crosses the finish line. I want to see what he does. I've regretted some of the things I've done, but this is not one of them. Never in a million years would I have taken that back."

In Saturday's Belmont broadcast, Michaels will employ an odds crawl at the bottom of the screen before the race, he said, something that should please horseplayers, who have also grumbled about infrequent odds updates. A results crawl will also be used during the post-race coverage, Michaels said. The 90-minute Belmont broadcast will begin at 5:30 p.m. Eastern and run until 7. The broadcast was initially scheduled to begin at 5 p.m., but because of other commitments for sports broadcasts on Saturday - including a tennis tournament, a golf tournament, and an arena-football playoff game - NBC requested that Belmont move the post time back a half-hour. Post time is now scheduled for 6:38 p.m.

Not counting commercials, NBC will have approximately 19 minutes after the race is over to cover the trophy presentation and interview winning and losing jockeys, trainers, and owners - a tight squeeze. Several times during NBC's broadcast run of the Triple Crown, the network has run long, and Michaels said he anticipates going over this year, especially if Funny Cide wins.

"We can stay on for awhile," Michaels said. "We're not in a hurry. If we have a Triple Crown winner or some kind of controversy, believe me, we're not going anywhere."