Getting FOX Sports involved with horse racing is a good thing. The last time this happened was 1999, when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association launched a five-race series on the network called “NTRA Champions on Fox.” The network brought creativity and enthusiasm to its coverage of a sport that was in need of an infusion of fresh blood in how it was portrayed on the airwaves. That venture ended after only a couple of years. It was fun while it lasted.
The television landscape has changed immensely since then.
ESPN used to be the only full-time sports network. It added to the flagship; there is now ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN whatever.
Then along came the NBC Sports Network, the CBS Sports Network, and most recently, FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2. There are almost more sports networks than there are sports.
The explosion of sports networks has created great opportunities for sports seeking television exposure, horse racing being one of them. But exposure comes at a cost — literally. You have to pay your way on, which is what The Jockey Club has done with its “The Jockey Club Tour on FOX” series that launches Feb. 9 with the Grade 1 Donn Handicap from Gulfstream Park. It's part of a financial commitment from The Jockey Club, along with the America's Best Racing grass roots promotion of the sport to a younger crowd.
As Steven Crist pointed out recently in Daily Racing Form, the new series on FOX is not a reincarnation of the long-lamented American Championship Racing Series, which was a structured series of races for older horses beginning in winter and ending in late summer. But it wasn't intended to be ACRS, the sequel. Getting the kind of cooperation among tracks AND horsemen to participate in that kind of series today is virtually impossible.
“The Jockey Club Tour on FOX” is a series of Saturday and Sunday afternoon programs that will give some exposure to the sport from some of the continent's (and the world's) best horseracing venues, including Meydan in Dubai, Keeneland in Kentucky, Belmont Park and Saratoga in New York, Monmouth Park in New Jersey, and Woodbine in Canada. It's not going to bring us millions of new fans, but it might make us a bit more relevant in the busy sports landscape.
David Nathanson, the general manager and COO of FOX Sports 1 and 2, knows a bit about televising horse racing. He served as president of TVG from 2005-2009, so it won't be surprising to see some familiar faces on the FOX Sports telecasts of horse racing from that network.
It also won't be surprising to see gambling discussed during “The Jockey Club Tour on FOX” broadcasts. That was a major hurdle when the Disney Co.-owned ESPN covered horse racing. There was little talk of odds, exotic bets, payoff, etc. I'm betting you'll see some changes in that regard on FOX.
It would have been nice to have races like the Santa Anita Handicap or the Arlington Million on the series, but getting the proper date didn't work for the former and the latter was tied to a commitment to WGN television for at least another year.
This new series doesn't mean there won't be additional horse racing on television throughout the year. The New York Racing Association and Breeders' Cup are believed to be in negotiations to get some major races on NBC Sports in the second half of the year. And that's a good thing, too.
When it comes to showcasing horse racing on television, the more networks the merrier.
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