Big Brown made NBC’s job easy on Saturday at the Preakness Stakes.
He won, as expected, by five and a quarter lengths.
Eight Belles’s breakdown and death at the Kentucky Derby were noted often, mostly during a 13-minute-long panel hosted by Bob Costas about the challenges to the horse-racing industry posed by drugs and breeding. But the Big Brown story line held true for a well-produced broadcast that lasted more than two hours.
Big Brown’s trainer, Rick Dutrow, spoke with withering candor about himself in a feature about a past notable for his drug use.
“I’m not a guy who can figure out something with my brain,” Dutrow said. Keep him in a stable and let him train horses, and he said he’s fine.
He also called nearly everyone working for NBC “babe.”
Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown’s jockey, showed in several segments, including one with Costas in the jockeys’ room, that he is a fascinating character who keeps the seven-second delay button in play.
NBC’s camera was inadvertently present when Desormeaux forgot his whip. More importantly, NBC captured the winning jockey repeatedly looking under his arm to see his pursuers fade as Big Brown launched a burst of speed that moved him ahead — and far beyond.
“In 27 years of racing,” said the NBC analyst Gary Stevens, a former jockey, “I’ve never seen a horse accelerate like this one.”
Tom Durkin, the track announcer, also had it pretty easy, able to focus almost entirely on Big Brown. “Big Brown has seized the lead,” he said. “He is disappearing from the field. He’s … just … cruising.”
The taped horse-industry panel was a welcome addition, the polar opposite of the moronic red carpet special, hosted by the anti-Costas, Billy Bush, that preceded the Derby broadcast.
There were sparks between Stevens and William C. Rhoden, a columnist for The New York Times, over Rhoden’s comparison of horse racing to bullfighting. “Are we breeding to kill?” Stevens asked angrily. Only the presence of Buzz Bissinger, who greatly and profanely enlivened Costas’s HBO show during a recent segment about sports blogging, could have ensured an all-sparks panel.
Larry Bramlage, the on-site veterinarian at Triple Crown races, strongly argued that the solution to track tragedies did not lie in waiting until horses were 3 years old before they race. Larry Jones, Eight Belles’s trainer, lobbied for all states to prohibit horses from racing on steroids and other drugs.
Afterward, Dutrow said he would stop giving all his horses steroids once a month if the rules told him he had to. He said, almost incredibly, that he did not know what steroids did for his horses.
Bramlage made the savviest point: that horse racing, as addicted as other sports to big events, prizes speed, not strength and stamina, “and rewarded huge performance with an early return to breeding farms.”
That point was reinforced with news that Big Brown’s stud rights have been sold to Three Chimneys Farm for a reported $50 million or more.
The winner’s circle ceremony was far less annoying than it was after the Derby. No sponsor was in sight to offer fatuous sentiments with a goofy, clueless smile. I thought Martin O’Malley, Maryland’s governor, had been dispatched when he popped up for a short welcome early in the broadcast. But he reappeared at the trophy ceremony, burbling about the “terrific day” and “terrific race” for an eternity of 38 seconds. Don’t they ever learn?