Preakness coverage a 2-hour ride

The Baltimore Sun

Opening up the gates on another week of sports media notes while bemoaning the fact that jockeys' silks don't come in my size:

The Preakness doesn't need Joe Piscopo to get added coverage. Even though there is no red carpet show as from the Kentucky Derby, NBC's Preakness programming begins at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, with the added half-hour putting the broadcast at two hours, the longest ever.

During the first half-hour, the telecast will feature a round- table discussion on the death of Eight Belles in the Derby and the state of horse racing, led by Bob Costas. The discussees include Eight Belles trainer Larry Jones, NBC analyst Gary Stevens, Churchill Downs veterinarian Larry Bramlage, National Thoroughbred Racing Association head Alex Waldrop and New York Times columnist William Rhoden.

And if it seems horse racing - perhaps more than any other sport - constantly appears to be engaged in discussions about its direction, maybe part of that is because "there's no central figure who's a commissioner," NBC Preakness producer Sam Flood said yesterday. "One of the problems the sport faces is not having one guy who can say, 'This is what we're going to do.' "

So what of the question we ask every year: Do we have a Triple Crown horse?

Stevens said, in a network news release: "Do I believe [Big Brown] can win the Triple Crown? Yes, definitely. It would have to take something unforeseen for him not to."

NBC's Mike Battaglia said Big Brown's competition isn't the other runners, but the task.

"It doesn't look like there is a horse that can beat him in the Triple Crown, but I think the Triple Crown itself is his biggest obstacle," he said. "It's tough to run these three bang-up races in five weeks."

The network's Bob Neumeier agreed: "It's an awful lot to ask of a horse, and as impressive as he was in the Derby, if I had to bet for or against it, I'd bet against it. There is a reason there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner in 30 years."

Flood is not second-guessing the network's handling of Eight Belles' breakdown after the Derby, especially when it comes to what images NBC showed. It presented only an overhead shot from the blimp of Eight Belles down on the track, though NBC had available ground-level pictures of the horse in distress. "We're not going to put something on during family viewing hours that we shouldn't," Flood said.

MASN is calling it the "Battle of the Beltway." But you don't have to - you can just watch the unique presentation MASN is giving this weekend's Orioles-Washington Nationals series.

Combining the announcing teams for the two clubs it carries, MASN will serve up a three-man booth with alternating play-by-play men. Orioles analyst Jim Palmer and Nationals analyst Don Sutton - that's 592 major league victories between them - will comment during the whole game, while the Orioles' Gary Thorne works the first three innings and the last 2 1/2 and the Nats' Bob Carpenter calls the fourth through the top of the seventh.

Orioles sideline reporter Amber Theoharis will be joined by the Nationals' Debbi Taylor to report on their respective teams throughout the game. During the seventh-inning stretch, the two will engage in a mixed martial arts match just behind the mound. The loser has to wax the winner's car.

Yes, I made that up. I mean, you can only take unique so far.

The replacement for Bryant Gumbel won't be Al Michaels. The NFL Network offered the Thursday night play-by-play job to Michaels, but he decided to stick with just his NBC Sunday night schedule, The New York Times reported. "NBC was open to it, but it didn't work out from Al's point of view," Steve Bornstein, president of the NFL Network, told the Times. "We never got to the specifics."

As previously stated, the choice here to replace Gumbel is the guy in town for the Preakness, NBC's Tom Hammond.

Live, from Bristol, it's weekday mornings!

That's not how ESPN made its announcement this week of the change coming Aug. 11, but it could have. (ESPN also could have gone Chevy Chase old school and had Bob Ley fall down before shouting out the words.) No more morning reruns of the last SportsCenter from the night before. From 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., each hour will bring a live SportsCenter.

And welcome aboard, Hannah Storm. She'll be one of the anchors from 9 a.m. to noon. Did she have a catchphrase back on CBS' Early Show? Maybe her old pal Albert Belle could suggest some.

(For those who don't recall: Belle, then with the Cleveland Indians, unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at Storm in the dugout during the 1995 World Series, when she worked for NBC.)

Not that anyone at ESPN checked with me - maybe it's those things I say about Chris Berman - but this is a solid move that should especially benefit viewers who don't have ESPNews but want to see updated information during the day.

Nice get by HBO in snagging famed former New England Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh for Real Sports tonight at 8. Through the transcript of Andrea Kremer's interview released by HBO, Walsh's tale of life with Bill Belichick already is generating headlines.

Walsh doesn't let Belichick off the hook for the way he tried to brush off Spygate.

"Coach Belichick's explanation for having misinterpreted the rules, to me, that really didn't sound like taking responsibility for what we had done," Walsh told Kremer, "especially considering the great lengths that we had gone through to hide what we were doing."

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