Out of Left Field
PRESENTING THE PREAKNESS
Funny Cide takes step #2 toward the first Triple Crown since 1978
AFTER THE JOCKEY FIASCO
NBC captures the hijinx
of a feel-good Preakness
By STAN ISAACS
A scorecard on NBCs telecast of the exciting Preakness can be broken down into three components: the mixed treatment of the pre-race scene setting; the excellent race coverage; and the zeroing in with delight at the madcap post-race celebrating by the winners. Add to that the insertion of a comic bit to the usually Rotarian-dull post-race ceremonies by the irrepressible Bob Costas.
Before the race NBC did an excellent job covering the angle of the Everyman owners of Funny Cide. It did not do so well with what turned out to be the ridiculous controversy over Jose Santos in the Kentucky Derby that was the big story before the Preakness.
TV has the advantage over newspapers in that it can show pictures, many pictures, pictures of sequences of a race, pictures of any disputed actions in a race. Here, NBC showed not much more than the disputed photo run by the Miami Herald that led to charges that Santos was carrying a battery which helped his horse win the Derby. That wasnt enough, nor was it enough to have the NBC announcers come down, however the paper deserved it, on the Miami Herald, nor was it enough to report that the other jockeys testified to the good character of Santos.
In the clearing of Santos, there was talk about people looking at frame-by-frame shots of Santos during and after the race which showed that he couldnt have held anything other than a whip in his hand. NBC replayed aspects of the Derby in real time and in slow motion, but it didnt break it down in slow motion, frame by frame, if necessary, because this would have shown viewers why the Churchill Downs stewards had to admit a mistake in buying even for a short time the Miami Herald angle. It would have been a coup for producer David Michaels to have had Santos commenting over a Derby replay about what he was doing in the key stages to refute the questions raised by the Miami Herald photo.
The telecast had a feel-good celebratory feel to it because of the jollity spread by the frolicking owners of the winner and the excitement over the smashing performance by Funny Cide. Race caller Tom Durkin, ever on top of things, set up the end-of-the-race crescendo when Funny Cide pulled even with Peace Rules on the turn, shouting, And the race is on .
Then, as Funny Cide pounded down the stretch pulling away, Durkin got it with, turning the Preakness into a runaway, his voice pulsating to a higher pitch as he finished off with, a huge effort here. It is Funny Cide and hes headed home back to Belmont for a date with Triple Crown history. Yeah.
NBC showed the Funny Ciders high school graduation photos; of them arriving in high spirits at Pimlico in a school bus; of them enjoying themselves to the hilt; of them rooting for the horse and going slightly batty as he came charging down the stretch to victory. And they had the precious shots of the Santos family: the little kid, Jose, crying from the tension before the race, and whooping it up with his mother and sisters after the race. Id enjoy seeing these before-and-after shots of Jose when NBC sets the scene for the Belmont Stakes on June 7.
Bob Costas, getting into it more and more with each exposure to racing, was precisely right when, during the interviewing of officials and politicos in the winners circle, he shrewdly brought back the common touch. He asked if the regular-folks owners would quit their jobs now and he pulled out the most colorful of the owners, the zany bloke wearing a black derby atop a brown-and-yellow jacket and mustard-colored pants. Costas elicited his name--Augustine Williamsetti, Esquire was the best I could make out--and then asked him, If you win any part of the $5 million [for a Triple Crown victory] is there any chance a fashion consultant would come aboard? The rogue answered that he probably could get $10,000 for his outfit now. The viewers enjoyed this bonus because NBC, happily, stayed on for 15 minutes beyond its scheduled signoff.
A word of appreciation for director John Gonzalez race pictures: He discarded the network-nutty cut on the first turn of a switch from a back-to-front angle; this allowed viewers to get an uninterrupted look at any particular horse in the early going. And he executed excellent synchronization, following Durkin as the race caller was running down the entire field. Gonzalez had eight camera switches during the race, none of which were jarring, and, significantly, he bulls-eyed Funny Cide when the gelding made his big move on the turn.
A huzzah to Bob Neumeier for a betting triumph. Liking the favored Funny Cide, he opted for a $12 bet of six two-dollar exactas linking Funny Cide and Peace Rules with longshots. The Funny Cide-Midway Road exacta came home for a $120.60 payoff. It might not be a bad idea for NBC to do a short seminar on exotic betting for one of these telecasts.
Overall a score of 85 for the Preakness telecast--and the less said the better, perhaps, about the dubious feature plugging the upcoming Seabiscuit movie which popped up amidst a slew of actual commercials for the movie.
©2003 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The photo is from the official Preakness website.
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