Monday, February 10, 2014

Well Donn, FOX

by Alan Carasso  

I have to admit, when I tuned in to the FOX Sports 1 coverage of Sunday’s GI Donn H., I really didn’t expect to like it. I’m not entirely sure why that is--maybe I’m just a snob and I never think going in that any coverage could meet expectations. After 90 minutes, I was left with predominantly positive feelings.

No disrespect to the well-versed Kenny Albert, who hosted a previous incantation of racing coverage on FOX, but the talent assembled gave immediate credibility to the broadcast and the undertaking. TVG (and FOX Sports 1's) Greg Wolf was the anchor and was joined at that desk by Richie Migliore, who, in a short time, has become a trusted and skilled color person/racing analyst on the NYRA network and some outside opportunities. Not far away stood the ‘harder-core’ handicapping duo of TVG’s Simon Bray--ironically a former assistant to Donn-winning trainer Bill Mott--and NYRA’s Andy Serling (who, as I tweeted during the broadcast tongue-in-cheek, apparently does have legs). The fifth and final member of the FOX team was Alyssa Ali, on-air talent at Arlington Park.

Being that the show is geared towards a broad audience, the assumption is that there is only passing knowledge of our game, and there was plenty of teaching and definitions of terms (i.e. that since these were older horses in the Donn, none of them would be running in the Kentucky Derby). There were also simple explanations and clarifications from Bray in particular relating to the training of horses.

While the show centered around the running of the Donn, FOX took full advantage of the final career appearance of Groupie Doll in the GIII Hurricane Bertie S. earlier on the program and put the race on tape delay. Whereas racegoers watching the track feed could not see Groupie Doll after her slow beginning, the FOX cameras smartly panned out to show the chasm between her and the next-closest rival down the backstretch, including an isolation camera shot. It was an ideal segue into the rest of the show, as fans were able to fully appreciate the ground she had to make up, how fast she raced past the other horses on the turn and how quickly she put the race to bed. Perhaps a cut from Mandy Pope or Buff Bradley would have enhanced their decision to show the race, but other than that, it came off quite well.

Happily, FOX’s coverage also featured the GI Gulfstream Park Turf H. You might read this and say, ‘well, of course they did.’ But there are plenty of times that mainstream television coverage chooses not to include a Turf Classic, a Dixie or a Manhattan, before Triple Crown coverage, for example. Prior to the race, FOX displayed a matrix with the whole odds and a column including a $10 payout. If we’re being nit-picky, the 35-1 about Lochte wouldn’t have returned the $350 as displayed, but Wolf was on this, correctly explaining to the viewing public that the number in the right column represented the profit for the investment. That, I thought, was well done. I thought it was great then that Lochte went on to win the race, defying the logic of the handicappers on the air and the betting public at large (excepting, as those of you on Twitter might know, clocker Bruno de Julio, who touted the first two home off works). I actually thought FOX (Wolf, Mig, whomever) missed an opportunity to play up the longshot nature of the victory and how even seasoned handicappers, who went for the Amira’s Princes and Summer Fronts of the world summarily dismissed the winner as a hopeless outsider. Bray, Serling and Ali were each given $100 mythical bankrolls, and each took a beating in the race, including Ali’s $50 show bet on Summer Front. I get that they’re trying to showcase all sorts of bets, but, really, it’s OK for women to dive in to the win pool as well. I didn’t love that they left it to Ali--knowledgeable and capable as she is and was in the broadcast--to ‘take the easy way out.’ And, allowing me this one digression, it seemed--well, let’s call it unusual--that FOX sent Ali to the main track to scoop up a handful of dirt. It seemed obvious to more than one viewer (not necessarily this one), that there was only one reason they asked her to do this. Moving along now.

As luck would have it, the Donn came up a pretty compelling race for FOX’s first show, as it featured an Eclipse Award winner facing some race-fit rivals. Serling was double-fisted against Will Take Charge, and with good reason, though I’m not sure he was really allowed to articulate those opinions. In fact, at one point, I felt they were letting Migliore handicap the race harder than the handicapper(s) on board. I like Mig and appreciate and value his opinions, but more Serling for me in that scenario. (I am now reminded that 'the Mig' gave out the winner).

Again, the race proved a challenging one for the handicapper, as the upstart Lea was able to pull the upset over Will Take Charge with the longshot Viramundo running on to juice up the triple. There was a minor uproar on Twitter as to the comments Wolf had for Will Take Charge, suggesting that as the reigning champion, he should have rolled. Wolf is a veteran of many years on TVG and I’m sure this will go under the header of ‘wish I had a mulligan.’ I’m sure he’ll get it right the next time.

For me, watching racing coverage on something other than TVG, HRTV, ESPN or NBC was fun and a neat change of pace. I thought the camera work was good and gave a nice snapshot of Gulfstream and its beautiful environs. I wouldn’t be willing to put a ‘+’ next to the A grade, but, especially for a first crack, I was more than pleased with the coverage and I actually look forward to the next program in the series.

Let us know what you thought!

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