The Brock Talk

Monday, August 15, 2011

WGN Missed Telling Arlington Million Stories

Chicago-based television “superstation” >WGN America dove into the world of horse racing Saturday with their first live telecast of the Arlington Million from Arlington Park. WGN America, formerly known as “Superstation WGN,” has for decades featured live telecasts of other major sporting events, most notably as the longtime host station of the Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls.

But this was the station’s first attempt to broadcast horse racing live and it showed. Niether host Dan Roan nor commentator Howard Sudberry, appeared to have much knowledge of the sport, despite the fact that Sudberry is the Senior Director of Marketing at the Arlington.

Early in the production, however, they identified eventual winner Cape Blanco and second-place finisher Gio Ponti as the top contenders, but fell far short of identifying their credentials or history.

Sudberry was also the voice of a pre-race feature on Gio Ponti, but chose to identify him as a horse that was much closer to the end of his career than the beginning and coming into the Million off of a four-race losing streak. Sudberry made no mention of the fact that he is a two-time defending American Male Champion Turf Horse and was the Champion Older Horse in 2009. The non-racing fan viewer had very little idea of who Gio Ponti was or that he was quite accomplished.

The telecast made some nice comparisons between Gio Ponti and John Henry, but again, neither Roan nor Sudberry mention that John Henry, the only two-time Arlington Million winner was also a two-time Horse of the Year and four-time Champion Turf Horse. The telecast highlighted the John Henry statue over looking the paddock and featured a short and generic sound bit from John Henry's former trainer Ron McAnally, but the horses celebrity was never projected.

Even less attention went to other contenders as Cape Blanco was referred to only as “a toughy who won the Man ‘o War at Belmont Stakes.” It was also noted that Mission Approved should be the early leader and that Tajaweed was sixth last year in the Arlington Million and a good long shot bet this year. But that was about it as far as introducing the contenders.

Granted, it is very difficult to cram information about ten horses in a 30-minute telecast, but the telecast fell short in defining the international and historical relevance of the Arlington Million. The race has a long record producing champions – not too mention top contenders for the $3 million Emirates Airlines Breeders’ Cup Turf in November.

They also had some timing problems, missing the call to post then miscalculating the time between the buglers and the beginning of the post parade for another awkward minute or so as Sudberry and Roan were not comfortable with the task of adlibbing, but got through it relatively well.

The WGN America production team was also battling a summer thunderstorm for much of the day and many may have had little experience with horse racing. In the end, most problems glaring out of the television screens of horse racing fans every where, are never seen by the non-racing fan. But this telecast was co-produced by WGN America and Arlington Park, which means the track should have had the editorial control to avoid many of these errors and oversights.

I’m not suggesting that horse racing telecasts be targeted to the hard-core fan. The producers of the Arlington Million telecast Saturday appeared to know that also. WGN and Arlington Park missed the opportunity to reach into the treasure chest of stories that come with most any race and are significantly more abundant in an international race like the Arlington Million. The program should have at least identified the three European invaders as a group or the history of American versus European winners of the Arlington Million. Nor did they convey the importance of the race relative to the Breeders’ Cup and year-end championships.

The telecast looked good, especially in the face of the weather, and there were no major broadcast disasters with extended loss of video and/or audio. They get extra credit for hitting exacta too. They just could have done a much better job of telling the 2011 Arlington Million story.


Riposte said...

Test comment

Riposte said...

Look, we're in a media age where if every singl;e jockey in the race had been busy texting instead of riding, 75% of the people watching the show would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary.

What we need are live camera feeds covering the race. Pretending we're watching traffic cams on the net.

No opinions from the morons in the press boxes and TV stations. Just the action.

Brock Sheridan said...

Thanks for the comments Riposte. Not sure I agree with eliminating the on-air talent of horse racing telecasts, but I appreciate the creative thinking. Racing needs more "out of the box" thoughts.