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Preakness TV: NBC strong on race, light on infield

You didn't have to be a horse racing fan to enjoy NBC's coverage of the Preakness Saturday. NBC Sports offered an accessible, wide-ranging and thoroughly engaging 2 hours and 15 minutes of live television from Pimlico. I would have liked to see more coverage of what was happening on the infield with the bands, bikini contests and bottomless mugs of beer. But I don't think NBC Sports saw that story as a major part of its mission.

In terms of covering one of of horse racing's biggest events, from the steady presence of Bob Costas as anchor, to the superb sense of pacing and build-up of pre-race suspense, Saturday's telecast was textbook in how to do a sports telecast that simultaneously appealed to both hard-core and casual fans.

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The power of the telecast was clearly in its planning, preparation and overwhelming reportorial presence. NBC Sports simply covered every possible angle of the race in terms of horses, jockeys, trainers and owners.

Of course, it over-committed to the storyline involving Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and flamboyant jockey Calvin Borel. But that's expected in terms of the dominant narrative of the Preakness as the second leg of racing's Triple Crown.

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But NBC was all over the Lookin at Lucky story line as well, particularly trainer Bob Baffert's daring move to replace jockey Garrett Gomez with 25-year-old Martin Garcia after Lucky's disappointing performance at the Derby. NBC Sports pushed Baffert hard in pre-race interviews to explain the move even as he tried to downplay it. And network analysts did a surgical job of showing how Gomez twice in his last two races had led Lucky into traffic jams that stopped the horse's momentum. Garcia kept Lucky out of just such trouble Saturday.

The reporting and interviewing were exceptional. Donna Brothers seemed to everywhere -- including on horseback to catch up to Garcia and interview him after his winning ride.

And then, there's Costas who could get by simply with his voice and on-screen presence, going beyond his anchor role to hustle Pimlico for his own interviews like the hard-nosed and illuminating one he did with Kent Desormeaux, who rode Paddy O'Prado Saturday.

On the negative side, NBC Sports could have given viewers a better sense of what was happening on the infield with the music, games and drinking. Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn commented on the partying and drinking in an interview with Costas, and the telecast did include video of a "Tribute to America" from the Zac Brown Band.

So, in its defense, the network did make viewers aware in a general sense of what was happening there -- and it was after all NBC Sports, not NBC News, in town to cover a sporting event.

Still, in the end, I did not get any real sense of how the controversial "Get Your Preak On" campaign played out on the infield Saturday. And NBC Sports could have easily provided that with all the firepower it brought to Pimlico. I wonder why it didn't.

But unless it turns out that there was a major news story here that should have been reported and wasn't, I'm not wondering hard enough to take anything away from NBC's hard-charging coverage of the race.

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