First thing is first- I am glad ESPN is broadcasting horse racing and I think Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey are great, as are the little essay readings by Bill Nack. My problem with their coverage is about the direction /scope/focus of the coverage, which I will get to a bit later.
Most of my concerns about horse racing are about the sports as a whole. Specifically, that zero people care about horse racing and the industry has little reason to believe that will change anytime time soon. So what I look for from horse racing events or broadcasts is that it is done in a manner that fosters the participation of new fans. That means less horse racing jargon, a bit more explaining how things work, and so on.
In my opinion the biggest barrier people face in entering horse racing is that they don't know what all the jargon means- place, show, furlong, route, exacta, trifecta, maiden race, etc. Equally obstructive to their participation is the deciphering of the essential bible of horse racing jargon and cryptic symbology- The Daily Racing Form. It's too intimdating for people to want to try to figure out, and, as someone who has explained to scores of people over my life how to read a Form, it would be damn near impossible to figure out what all that stuff means on your own.
It's for that reason that I think ESPN should do a better job of educating the public about how to read the Form and participate in the sport. ESPN should give people the information, which will then lead to the requisite confidence to take their family, friends or girlfriend to a day at their local track.
I'd like to see ESPN's coverage include more racing handicappers (people who try to pick the winners) telling us their selections and why. They could show us the Racing Form on the screen with a telestrator while the handicapper points at the numbers and explains why they factored in his decision. This is the only way to learn how to handicap a race- you have to watch someone do it in front of you while they explain it.
Unfortunately, ESPN's coverage has way too little of this, despite having Randy Moss, who is an excellent and innovative handicapper in his own right. Instead, their modus operandi is to deluge the viewers with human interest stories, biographies of Belmont connections, and Kenny Mayne's questionable hilarity all while trying to shoehorn in the undercard. What they should do is focus on each of the successive races before the Belmont and handicap them, leaving out the human interest stories. When I go to the track with my Racing Form under my arm, I don't know any of the human interest stories. Sure, some are fascinating, but that isn't why I love the sport. Every conceivable aspect of life has human interest stories, so let us focus on what is unique to horse racing- like horses that race eachother and betting on them.
If you like human interest stories, you may not necessarily love horse racing. But if you love horse racing, then you love horse racing. So lets focus on horse racing. You have to aim high- and if someone watching ESPN's broadcast fell in love with everything ESPN was saying, that doesn't make them a fan of actual horse racing, just a fan of horse racing stories. And if you go to the track on any given saturday, you won't know any of the stories. Similarly, if ESPN's broadcast was focused on handicapping and someone fell in love with that coverage, they could visit their local track the next day and help support the sport.
ESPN and the horse racing community need to prepare the populace with the ability to fend for themselves at the track.. Namely arming them handicapping and betting knowledge. That and only that will help bring people back.
Today's broadcast of the Belmont Day is probably the best day of racing in America other than the Breeder's Cup- Four Grade 1 races and two Grade 2s. Sadly, such an exciting concentration of talent is lost on ESPN's coverage. While they should be telling us how exciting the next race is and why, they merely show the odds of the horses in the upcoming race, before going to more human interest stories, debates about the Triple Crown structure and showing the Belmont Stakes odds yet again. The casual viewer at home has no idea what a special DAY of racing this is and how special the horses on their television screen really are. While they could be learning about how important post position or pedigree is to a sprint race, they instead are forcefed another drunken-like stumbling of Hank Goldberg interspersed with Kenny Mayne making sure the focus is on him and not the horses.
I used to wonder why no one follows horse racing.
In Jack Keruouc and William S. Burroughs book, And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, there is a scene where the characters are at a port in NYC and are waiting around to be interviewed for the Merchant Marines. They're bored and nearly broke but they can't leave their area for fear they'll miss their interview. In an effort to cure his boredom, one of the characters picks up a Racing Form and gives it a quick look to see if he likes any horses running that day and can maybe make some easy money before he is interviewed and possibly deployed.
In the entire book about NYC's WWII-era Beatnik Boehemia, that scene struck me as the most outdated.
That's how I roll.