07/29/2009 11:00PM

Home viewing lacks big picture


DEL MAR, Calif. - During the first nine days of August, the three most powerful weapons in the U.S. racing arsenal will be activated at three different sites around the country.

On Saturday afternoon, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird will grace the $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park with his Cinderella story. His primary opponent, Big Drama, is a fast, classy colt who has the speed to steal the show, but he won't.

On Sunday afternoon, not far from the Jersey Shore, Rachel Alexandra will descend from her crystal palace in magical Saratoga to appear in the $1.25 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. She will encounter Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, who is a good colt on the rise with the closing kick to catch her, but he won't.

Then, one week later at Del Mar, Zenyatta is scheduled to defend her title in the Clement L. Hirsch against whatever older fillies and mares can be mustered to run against her. Since Zenyatta has won all 11 of her races, and since it is statistically unlikely that a tossed coin will come up heads every time, there is always a chance she could lose. But she won't.

Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Mine That Bird represent the heartbeat of the game these days. They are the only players who have the slightest chance to raise the pulse of the general sports fan. That is why it is an embarrassment, and an absolute crying shame that only one of those three superstars will be seen on anything other than a betting channel this time around.

The West Virginia Derby will be telecast live on Fox Sports Net Saturday afternoon, from 5-6 p.m. This is because Mountaineer Park management had the bucks and the bang to make it happen. In order to watch the live running of the Haskell, or the Hirsch, a viewer would need access to TVG, and only TVG.

The FSN telecast of the West Virginia Derby will be hosted by Caton Bredar, Kurt Hoover and Chris Lincoln. Yes, that Chris Lincoln, he of the lilting tenor "announcer's voice" and the ever-changing waistline, whose presence once seemed ubiquitous as the public face of horse racing, whether as telecast host, event emcee, or simply as the guy you asked if you wanted to know where to sit.

By Lincoln's count, though, it has been the better part of a decade since he was part of a live feature race broadcast. He sold his piece of WinnerComm, the production company he founded with Jim Wilburn that provided racing show content for such major clients as ESPN, and two years ago went back to his roots as sports director of the ABC affiliate KTUL, Channel 8, in Tulsa, Okla.

"When I was asked to do the race, I had no idea that Mine That Bird would be there," Lincoln said. "I'd done their derby a bunch of times, and hosted the derby draw event as well. I just figured it would be a good time. I have to admit, the fact that he will be the first Kentucky Derby winner to set a hoof in the state of West Virginia in their racing history makes it kind of special."

Lincoln and his wife, Becky, were on their way to the airport in Dallas on Thursday afternoon following Big 12 football media gathering. Their next stop was Pittsburgh, where they were hoping to be met by a driver from Mountaineer Park.

"They know, no matter how many years I've been there, I can never find the track," Lincoln said. "I always get lost somewhere in the mountains of Pennsylvania or West Virginia.

"And by the way," Lincoln added, "if you're ever in Chester, the home of Mountaineer Park, you will find in the center of town the world's larger teapot. They're famous for their pottery. A lot of the crew, whenever we're there, make a trip to the Fiesta Pottery outlet store for all their pottery needs."

Ah, life on the road.

Lincoln is especially jazzed about Mine That Bird's New Mexican connections, which includes owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach.

"We go back a long ways with Dr. Blach," Lincoln said. "He was one of the very first advertisers for Jim and me when we were doing just Quarter Horses. Even more importantly, he was one of the very few who paid us.

"So I thought it was a lot of fun to look at the expressions on the faces of old Kentucky bluebloods when those cowboys were waving around that gold trophy on the winner's stand at Churchill Downs after their little gelding won the Derby," Lincoln added. "I understand they're also planning to take Mine That Bird to Ruidiso Downs on Labor Day. Everybody in Kentucky will probably have a stroke when the Derby winner leads the post parade for the All-American Futurity."

Since he is no longer part of the racing establishment, Lincoln gets to shake his head in wonder at the current state of network coverage.

"I was stunned last week watching the Eddie Read on ESPN from Del Mar," Lincoln said. "They were promoting their racing to Breeders' Cup schedule, going from the Eddie Read, to the Arlington Million, to the Travers. And that was it. We used to do 12 or 14 races in the fall. So it is disconcerting, and I think it does reflect a change in attitude toward horse racing at the network level."

That will be it, at least on ESPN, home of the Breeders' Cup, until Oct. 10 and the cluster of major Breeders' Cup preps. But this is no longer Lincoln's problem.

"You can believe they're getting a lot more horse racing than they've ever seen on Channel 8 in Tulsa," Lincoln said. "And if no other station in Oklahoma carries news about the West Virginia Derby, I guarantee Channel 8 will have it on."