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Monday, July 03, 2006

TVG Not Ready for Prime Time

- TVG is one of the sweet sixteen of bidders for the NYRA franchise, a fact that was on my mind as I was watching their coverage of the Grade 1 Hollywood Oaks, which was carried here on Fox Sports New York. The host of the telecast, Todd Schrrmmppff, was as earnest as ever. With that over-melodramatic tone, he told us of the “exciting scene” and how “the tension starts to build.” He tried to compare the event to the ongoing World Cup tournament, and declared that jockey Victor Espinoza, on favored Japanese import Asahi Rising, was “carrying the hopes of a nation.” That filly was the center of attention of the TVG crew, which included Gary Stevens and Simon Brey, and the bettors, who made her the 8-5 choice, despite the fact that she had never won a graded event.

The network was not on any lists of possible bidders in New York that I’d seen, but I suppose it shouldn’t be a total surprise. It is a wagering hub, after all, as well as an archrival to HRTV, which is owned by Magna, also amongst the bidders. TVG could hardly expect to lose the NYRA tracks to HRTV and expect to survive. TVG is owned by TV Guide/Gemstar, a public company, and thus is likely in a financial position to either make a bid themselves, or partner with someone else. Matt Hegarty reported in the Form that TVG alerted NYRA on Friday that the company had submitted its name but that NYRA has had no other discussions with the company.

"Their attorney told our attorney that they were going to be on the list, but only as a place-card, so to speak," [NYRA chief Charlie] Hayward said.
It doesn’t seem at all likely, but the thought of Saratoga turning into a giant TVG studio is a little scary to say the least. We could certainly kiss goodbye to Jan Rushton and Tom Durkin, and say hello to Jessica York and Vic Stauffer. We could likely expect some of the familiar restaurants and bars to be receive new names, such as the All Access Pub, or the Channel 602 Lounge.

And if their telecast of the Oaks is any indication, the whole production would be rather clunky. There had been so much buildup for the race on the network - how many times have you heard the name 'Cesario' mentioned there of late - that you would think they would have planned something beyond the usual talking heads with the occasional interview from the paddock.

In an unintentionally hilarious moment, Christine Olivares, curiously the only reporter assigned to interview duty at their home track, questioned Koga Masaaki, the Japanese trainer of Asahi Rising, pointing the microphone to the interpreter, and then back to the trainer as he answered the questions himself in a soft mumble, not a word of which I could comprehend, as the interpreter stood awkwardly by. The only other pre-race interview was with James Cassidy, trainer of two longshots; neither of the two 5-2 shots received any particular attention. During the post parade, instead of doing a rundown of the contestants, they played videos of the jockeys introducing themselves. Not a bad idea. But most of the riders seemed very ill at ease, and there were uncomfortably long interludes between the segments which were filled with cheesy techno music, a selection, no doubt, off the greatest hits album of the music they play during the races on Monday and Tuesday nights.

On the plus side, Ms. Olivares did a good job reporting on an extremely rough commute from Canada to Hollywood for Arravale, which included her being backed off a van on a highway after it had broken down. (Too bad for those who had bet her that the information came with just three minutes until post time.) Gary Stevens, noting that jockey Espinoza seemed relaxed (pretty impressive considering that he was ‘carrying the hopes of a nation’) advised us to watch the body language of jockeys and trainers to see if they’re nervous too - and you thought it was enough to evaluate the horses! I guess seeing a liquid dripping down the legs is bad whether in horses or people. And Simon Brey noted that Asahi Rising seemed a little wet and worked up as post time neared; he pointed out that Espinoza had taken his feet out of the stirrups to try and calm her down a bit, and speculated that entering the turf course got her riled up.

All in all though, it seems to me that the network is still feeling its way towards establishing a truly top-scale telecast, and since that is their main purpose in life at this point, one wonders how they would run three racetracks.

Stevens and Brey fell into their own hype and both picked Asahi Rising. She ran a nice race, but no one was catching Wait a While , another Grade 1 winner for Todd Pletcher, who, according to the LA Daily News, was winning his first race in California since Dubleo won the Nov. 27, 2004, Generous Stakes. Pletcher apparently hadn't run a horse here since Limehouse's disappointing fifth in the 2005 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Wait a While, who took the G2 Davona Dale in the slop at Gulfstream in February, is by Maria's Mon. Interestingly, the sire had two graded winners on that winter day, as High Limit took the Strub in sunnier California; but this was the first graded stakes win for one of his progeny since then. Wait A While, who is now two-for-two on the grass, is out of Flirtatious, a winning AP Indy mare; her second dam is Grand Charmer, a graded stakes winner (the G3 Pucker Up) on the turf. Her racing manager Cody Richardson said that she'll likely stay on the grass. "She's obviously a very competitive filly on the dirt as well, but after a performance like this against this caliber of fillies, you'd have to think she'd be here for a while." [Thoroughbred Times]

- Perhaps the most audacious bidders for the New York franchise are the five state OTB's. I imagine that not a single positive word was spoken to the committee about them during any of the public or private hearings that they held. In fact, a prevalent theme has been the necessity of consolidating them all under the new franchise holder; so the idea of them signaling their intentions to turn the tables on that concept is perhaps their idea of a joke. It's expected that the five will consolidate their bid as one when we get to August 15.

Another curious bidder is Monticello Raceway, the tiny harness track/casino in upstate New York. That shows you the power of slots. Not long ago, Monticello couldn't have bid for an old Echo and the Bunnymen 12" EP on Ebay.

One bidder conspicuous by its absence was Delaware North, the operator of the Finger Lakes racetrack and casino. But the 16 are still permitted to bring in yet-to-be identified partners, so it's quite possible they'll still show up, perhaps with Empire Racing Associates, who has to be considered the favorite at this point.


Patrick J Patten said...

Uh oh you're showing your age. the music was white stripes, very up to date and very cool. wouldn't have been my choice, but it's better than NBC and ABC and their best of the 80s vault

Alan Mann said...

Oh. Well, at least I knew it wasn't Echo and the Bunnymen.

El Angelo said...

TVG seemed to be aiming the broadcast of the Oaks at an international feed, and not their usual audience, IMO. The whole tilt towards internationalism and pumping the origins of the jockeys was a bit different, and Schrupp's banter about the prestige of the race was way over the top.