Sometimes when you’re in the middle of something special you don’t realize the significance of the moment.
I started going to the races while I was in high school with friends and soon after with my dad, who owned some inexpensive claiming horses. At the time he was living the dream of horse owner, it didn’t matter that these horses were not headed for the Kentucky Derby. (or any Derby for that matter).
One of my earliest memories was the 1978 Belmont Stakes, sitting in the 4th deck at Belmont Park with a close friend and watching a horse named Affirmed go for the Triple Crown. It was a thrilling race etched in my memory. Affirmed and his rival Alydar locked up on the first turn and ran as a team around the huge 1 1/2 Belmont oval until Affirmed managed to edge Alydar to capture the Triple Crown. Here I am in the same seat at Belmont Park, this past June 36 years later.
That summer (1978), my friends and I discovered Saratoga in August and there was no turning back. There were six or seven of us that first time. we pitched a tent in a campground, paid $25 dollars per night and had a grand old time. I remember on the trip home, no one had any money left and someone throwing pennies in the toll basket on the NY State Thruway. I can still hear the ringing of the buzzer. I was hooked on the sport and my tradition of going to Saratoga every year stands today, except now as a horse racing broadcaster, the experience has changed dramatically.
During my career in sports television my passion for the sport of Thoroughbred Racing never went away. I was a small bettor, but always loved the action and the challenge of predicting the outcome of a race. It’s a great thrill (to me) to have the race go exactly as I envisioned after analyzing the past performance data.
Like many others who frequent the track, I have hundreds of “racetrack” stories some good, some bad but all memorable. So when I got the opportuunity to work with the Jockey Club late in 2011 to help start up a new multi-media initiative that was designed to help bring the sport to a new generation of fans and re-energize the grand old game, it was very special opportunity for me.
In my three years with the America’s Best Racing media and marketing venture I have been fortunate to find myself in the middle of covering two triple crown attempts. In 2012, a horse named I’ll Have Another with a colorful trainer in Doug O’Neil, and an unknown Jockey Mario Guttirrez took the nation by storm, winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and setting up a run for the Triple Crown in the Belmont. At that point it had been 34 years since Affirmed had taken the Triple Crown and the nation was ready for an equine hero. I was covering the races for our newly established website “America’s Beat Racing,” after I had co-produced a series of triple crown prep broadcasts that aired on NBC Sports Network and NBC.
In covering the Triple Crown events I was working with filmmaker John Hennegan, who had produced the documentary “First Saturday in May” a few years back. We ended up gathering some great footage at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. In the parking lot at Pilmico John and I realized we had enough material for a full 30 minute show that could serve as a preview to the historic run at the Belmont. My colleagues of The Jockey Club agreed to underwrite the project. Here is a link to the program. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z62be2VUqBM
The show aired on Thrusday June 7th on NBC Sports Network and was scheduled to air again on Friday night and then again before the Belmont Stakes on June 9th.
Unfortunately for the racing world (and our program) I’ll Have Another came up with a leg injury the day before the Belmont Stakes and was scratched. Another tough blow for the horse racing industry. In my case, I was disappointed as a fan, but thrilled to be part of it and getting paid to boot. I was like a kid in a candy store.
This year, along with covering the sport for ABR, I was spending the majority of my time as the Executive Producer for “The Jockey Club Tour on Fox,” working hand-in-hand with our partners at Fox Sports to create, produce and lauch a new horse racing series. But when it came to the Triple Crown races which aired on NBC, I put on my Field Producer’s hat and had the opporutnity to cover the races for their new network Fox Sports 1 and for Fox Sports Digital. The analyst from our TV series, former jockey Richard Migliore was the reporter.
California Chrome as we know won the Kentucky Derby….
…and then the Preakness only to fall short in the Belmont Stakes. The scene before the race was electric as the world once again though they were watching a champion about to be crowned.
As a horse racing fan and reporter it was another amazing experience. For a while, it looked like history would shine bright on California Chrome but it was not to be. Tomorrow, California Chrome makes his return in the Pennsylvania Derby and if things go as planned, it will be a victory and a trip to the Breeders Cup World Championships. The race is going to be streamed live by America’s Best Racing at www.americasbestracing.net starting at 4:30ET.
I wish the connections the best of luck, racing needs a superstar and I’ll keep doing my part to bring the sport to as many new fans as possible.