"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore", so said the late Peter Finch in his Academy Award-winning performance in Network. Apparently, this was the same sentiment that Churchill Downs had when it came to the prep races for the Kentucky Derby not being available to the general public on network TV. Churchill Downs, Inc. has entered into an agreement with NBC to show six major prep races for the Run For The Roses on three different weekends in the coming months.
On March 27, the Louisiana Derby from Fair Grounds and the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway will be on USA Network (which is a subsidiary of NBC). The following week, April 3, it will be the Santa Anita Derby from Santa Anita and the Wood Memorial from Aqueduct on NBC itself. Finally, April 10 will feature the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby from Oaklawn on NBC also.
Basically, what has happened here is that Churchill Downs seized control of these prep races from the NTRA and their broadcast partner, ESPN. The NTRA had no concrete plans to air the prep races on television and ESPN (which continues to fall further and further out of the horse racing game) didn't want to touch them either. So, Churchill stepped up to the plate and did what needed to be done to sure that their premier event will have the proper amount of buildup and hype generated on television through the spring. Don't forget that NBC broadcasts the Derby and Preakness every year, so it is also in the network's best interests to have as many of these races air as possible. After all, the more they can publicize racing's three-year-old stars going forward (like Lookin At Lucky, Noble's Promise, Buddy's Saint, etc.), the higher the ratings stand to be for the Derby itself.
I applaud what Churchill and NBC have decided to do. Anytime racing can get more of its action on network TV, that is a good thing. By making the public aware of the coming stars this spring, the track and the network are finally being pro-active in getting the good word out there about the Derby. Pro-active is a word rarely used with the upper levels of management in the sport of horse racing. With ESPN's extremely limited coverage during the spring, the three-year-old celebrities of racing have been relatively obscure in recent times. I just look forward to the day that the Breeders' Cup also gets on the stick and gets its marquee racing event back on a network that might actually consider it more than just a buffer between college football games.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!