My thoughts on 2016 Kentucky Derby TV coverage

Posted on 5 min read 34 views

Watching horse racing on TV

Get some coffee or tea. Get comfy. I have a lot to say.

First, the Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor goes to …


I hope he got his fill of carrots and Guinness or whatever treats are part of his training diet, but he can’t go “too nuts.” He’s gotta bring it all over again in a couple of weeks.

He was part of the main story line of NBC’s coverage: is Nyquist The One to do it again?

History says …

Ya know, the ’70s had a series of Triple Crown winners and, frankly, we started taking them for granted. And then there were none for 37 years. People started asking if the series was too hard for modern thoroughbreds, all bred mostly for early speed.

Then, American Pharoah ended the drought and shut up the advocates for modification to the Triple Crown. Even better? He and his connections charmed the socks off any skeptics.

Archetypal heroes?

There can only be one Drought Ender per generation. We have yet to see what Nyquist’s archetype will be.

“Eight million stories in the Naked City”

And just about as many with each Kentucky Derby. You have twenty horses along with their connections and their histories. You do the math.

Yet, TV coverage can only focus on a few, usually the favorite and the “Hall of Fame” “rock star” trainers and jockeys.

So, I have to wonder about a much-talked-about story we saw little of –

How did it go with Lani?

Early scuttlebutt portrayed him as the second coming of Hastings. Throw that into nineteen other normally high-spirited 3-year-old thoroughbred colts and 170,000 hyper, giddy people. What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently, nothing, thank goodness. Plus, the media scrum could’ve set him off, too, so I should just sit here quietly, maybe delete this section. Still, I was curious — maybe you are, too — so I went to my search engine.

USA Today on the day after the Derby tells us a little about how Lani fared. Even though he finished mid-pack, he did quite well, considering. No permanent damage to anything or anyone.

I totally believe he had TV coverage on him because the Japanese love horse racing like I wish we did here. NBC had a lock on TV rights, so I suspect there was “pool” coverage, which may have included a camera on him, unless the price tag was too high.

I also suspect Lani’s connections, the gate crew, and the outriders had figured out his hot buttons to make it easier for him to keep his cool, which turned his behavior a non-story.

Still, I would’ve liked to have watched him load in the gate. Lots of great suspense there. I’d like to have seen how they all loaded, but I’m no longer the target audience. More about that later.

What about — who??

Another question that came up out here in the ether was why didn’t Shagaf finish? The letter designation of DNF was beside his name in the order-of-finish.

Apparently, he just backed off during the race. The Lexington Herald-Leader, in the heart of Bluegrass horse country, posted an article with quotes from each trainer about each horse.

So, now we know more about our also-rans.

“Who are you wearing?”

Hinton. Sise. Norman. The names may stump the fashionistas, but Fran Jurga of the Hoofcare blog has the scoop on the shoes worn by the Derby horses.

The needs of the many

That said, how does one cover the biggest race of the year, an event that attracts different demographics? Think about it.

Everyone brings his or her own specific needs to our annual national, even international, rite of spring.

Hosts of Kentucky Derby parties use the coverage as background atmosphere. Handicappers test their skills as they consider horses of known, even famous, pedigrees. Fashionistas and foodies and celeb worshippers like to admire and covet and dream. Plus, it also offers an opportunity to horseless horse lovers working hard to fit in among those who aren’t. (You are among friends here. ::wink::)

I make sure The Horsey Set Net is inclusive.

That said, I had a really good time watching the so-called “fluff” reporters: Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski, and Rutledge Brown find the fun in Derby Day.

Hazardous duty having nothing to do with Lani

No sooner than my husband MacGuyver, who’s tried to make television coverage in the mob of the Derby infield, cracked, “They’ll never send reporters into that crowd,” we saw Rutledge Brown in his tulip suit (like a Nudie’s suit!) finding a pocket of gentility in what usually looks more like “Spring Break in May.” He even survived his excursion to make to the Peacock Paddock for more reports. Speaking of the Peacock Paddock …


I was also intrigued by Johnny Weir’s interactive brooch. As this post on my other blog tells you, I had just taken a course on coding. I find it fascinating and am intrigued by the storytelling medium it may offer.

Here’s more about the brooch and how it was developed from its creator Viget, a company that designs experiences via digital media. The brooch was successful in building interest.

It even falls into our wheelhouse of “horses-in-culture” as wearable electronics.

The brooch granted long-distance participation, in addition to online betting. Even if you weren’t at the Downs on Derby Day, you could hop on Twitter, tweet the hashtag, and watch the brooch light up on live TV.

In other words, you could be part of the action without flying to Louisville or joining a racing partnership.

Milliennials don’t want to just watch. They want to be part of the action.

The Needs of the Future

The Sporting News considered the social media aspect the best part of the coverage.

Johnny and Tara and Rutledge and the other young announcers are attracting many young adults. They’re bringing the fun to racing to people who thought racing was “stodgy and elitist,” as described in the article about the usual Derby TV coverage.

American Pharoah the Drought Ender was the perfect horse for social media. He posed for pictures, even selfies. He had the temperament and the connections, a double advantage, for meet-and-greets.

I’ll be interested to see what Reddam’s team comes up with for social media. Or, more likely, what fans will come up with to participate in Nyquist Fever.

Although the “I’ll Have Another Pedicure” campaign back in pre-Belmont 2012 wasn’t an idea from the horse’s connections, but the connections still added money to sweeten the pot to boost donations.

It’s here to stay cuz people come to play

For good or ill, nothing builds excitement for an event going viral on social media.

Social media allows multiple media for creative outlets and a way for fans to, not only express their excitement, but join the excitement of the event.

This is how we “make racing cool again.”







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  • Fran
    May 10, 2016

    Hi, Rhonda,

    Another great post! And thanks so much for mentioning my story on Derby feet. It was fun to do, but the Badminton Horse Trials cross-country phase was going on in England at the same time so I felt like I needed two of me that day!

    I only found out today that you could have experienced the Derby through Virtual Reality. Did you know about that–or try it? I got in touch with the VR experience company that did it with NBC, and I hope to do a story on it, but need to find someone who did it!

    In the big picture, I got the feeling that American had fun with the Derby this year but I didn’t feel much carryover to a surge in anticipation for the Preakness. Did I miss something?

    And I too wondered about Shagaf. You could see him stop running in the corner of the screen and that ruined the finish for me because I was wondered what happened to him. I guess he likes a shorter distance!

    Great job, Rhonda!

    • rhond7
      May 11, 2016

      Thanks, Fran. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Your Derby farrier article was a great addition for those of us who can’t get enough coverage of the horses on Derby. Radicals, we are. 🙂 I didn’t watch via virtual reality. I didn’t know we could. I wonder what the interface would’ve been? We have a cardboard pair of “Google Goggles.” (Not like “beer goggles,” but a mashup of VR and 360-degree views.)