Breeders' Cup gets star treatment

If experience is any guide, the ratings for tomorrow's Breeders' Cup races won't come within hailing distance of the Super Bowl's.

The highest Cup rating came in its first year, 1984, the only time the annual daylong series of thoroughbred races has drawn a rating above 5.0. The past four telecasts have drawn ratings in the 2.5-3.5 range, with single-digit shares.


But that won't stop NBC from covering this year's Cup from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., as if it were a Super Bowl, with nine announcers, 21 cameras in both fixed and movable posts, 14 tape machines, eight miles of camera and audio cables and a blimp, thrown in for good measure.

NBC should have no trouble filling the 4 1/2 hours of air time (Channel 2, 1-5:30 p.m.) with compelling stories and interesting races, including the 1 1/8 -mile distaff, with Hollywood Wildcat, Heavenly Prize and Sky Beauty, unbeaten in 1994.


Whatever is lost by the absence of Holy Bull, the likely Horse of the Year, from the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic, the showcase of the seven-race, $10 million card, should be made up for by the presence of Tabasco Cat, who won this year's Preakness and Belmont after nearly trampling Jeff Lukas, the son of trainer D. Wayne Lukas, in a December accident.

"It would be quite an emotional moment if Tabasco Cat could win, but he's a very lukewarm favorite," said race caller Tom Durkin, who joins host Tom Hammond at the head of NBC's crew of announcers.

Weekend football

On the college end of the gridiron, Channel 13 has tomorrow's Miami-Syracuse skirmish from the Carrier Dome for the Big East championship at 3:30 p.m.

Channel 45 will have the San Francisco 49ers-Washington Redskins game Sunday at 1 p.m.; Channel 2's doubleheader has the requisite Miami Dolphins sighting, this week against the Indianapolis Colts, and the 4 p.m. offering is New England-Cleveland.

Thumbs up for 'Hoop Dreams'

Be sure to catch the wonderful documentary "Hoop Dreams," which opens today at the Rotunda. This 2-hour, 50-minute film chronicles two Chicago high school basketball players who aspire to the highest levels against remarkable odds.

The film tracks Arthur Agee, now at Arkansas State, and William Gates, a senior at Marquette, and their families through 4 1/2 years of ups and downs -- on the court, in the classrooms and at home.


"Hoop Dreams," which was originally destined for PBS as a 30-minute special, displays the uncompromising world of high school basketball in a way that will make many nod and others flinch in acknowledgment. The film has attracted Academy Award-buzz and likely will be on the end-of-year top 10 list of many movie critics.

'Team' substitutions

One need only look at the struggles of Washington's all-sports radio station WTEM (570 AM) to see that such a format would be nearly impossible in Baltimore.

WTEM program director Doug Gondek resigned yesterday, leaving behind a low-wattage, low-rated station that drew a 0.8 in the summer 1994 Arbitron ratings, failing to land among Washington's top 25 stations, even with the rights to the Redskins, the most popular entity in town.

Even with Gondek's departure, the station appears likely to keep its format, but further changes, particularly among higher-priced air talents, might be in the wind.

In addition, WTEM, which is in the last year of a three-year contract with the Redskins, likely will be strenuously challenged for the rights by former holder WMAL (630 AM) and all-news WTOP (1500 AM), which carries the Orioles there.


WTEM's problems in a bigger market like Washington, which has a number of college and professional teams that serve as on-air fodder and a more affluent populace, only reinforce that an all-sports format here would be foolhardy.