Between Races: Ky. Derby Rated One of Four Elite Stakes; Big Race Flourished Upon News Comment; Explains Shrinkage of Turf Television Shows, Daily Racing Form, 1955-05-02


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Between Races By Oscar Oiis — - Ky. Derby Rated One of Four Elite Stakes Big Race Flourished Upon News Comment Explains Shrinkage of Turf Television Shows CHURCHILL DOWNS, Louisville, Ky., April 30.— Baron Fred dOsten, the globe-trotting turfman, ventures the opinion that the four greatest races in the world are the Kentucky Derby, Epsom Derby, Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Prix de Arc Tri-omphe, although not necessarily in the order listed. The barons statement is contentious and provocative, but there is a great deal to be said for his assertion some of the best tests of a classic race, and we are using the term in its broadest sense, include the amount of year-round discussion it provokes, the amount of turf writer copy produced and printed on a given stake, as well as the sophistication of the crowds in attendance. The Kentucky Derby, for instance, is the only race in the United States which annually has.a 48-state gate appeal, and the English Derby is the "top race in England to draw visitors from all parts of the empire. The Queen Elizabeth hints at a bit of British showmanship, but .that is quit* commendable. The Triomphe, while billed as a world event, is actually an European championship test, depending a; great deal upon its prestige through money distributed. Race That Words Built The Kentucky Derby is, among other things, a race that words built. When enough people read about it a lot, and over a period of years; it was almost automatic that the best horses in training would respond. The thing is sort cumulative. Any race that can command a deal of newspapers space the year around is bound to assume a .greater importance in the public mind than a stake, however rich, which has news value of only. a few weeks. Until last year, the Kentucky Derby was pre-eminent among American stakes nationally, for the amount of frews it created, but there are two stakes which are rapidly gaining strength in the sustained interest department, these being The Garden State- and Jhe Washington, D. C, International at Laurel. Sheer weight of dollars insured Gene Moris race prestige from the start, but the day7 may be not far distant when the winner of this race almost automatically will become the future book favorite for the spring three-year-old classics. While the Washington, . D. C, International has a different approach and appeal, it is, nevertheless, fpunded in a solid idea, and has, we feel sure, a future as a classic. Press coverage by staff writers of metropolitan newspapers of the Derby has become tremendous. x Papers from coast to coast and border to border are represented and a poor Derby Day file from the press box would be 5000,000 words. It is customary for the many newsmen on hand to get their stuff first, hand in the stable area, with the result that at early hours of the morning, groups of from two to 30 wander from stall to stall picking up stray bits of information. Un- questionably, the horse which drew the greatest press gallery for his every morning gallop, drill, and cool-out was Native Dancer. We saw Kim walk to the track one morning with more than 200 sports writers, camera men, and TV people following. They all watched him travel, then followed him right back to the barn. "Levy Explains Turf Television Situation Dr. Leon Levy of Atlantic City race track, and who also is a member of the board of directors of CBS, explains what has happened to the series of telecasts • on big stakes which were so popular from New York, and how it happens that this year, for the greater part of the year, the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes will be perhaps the only races telecast nationally during the season. The Wood was a last minute improvisation, you know. "The time was sold to the Game of the Week," says Levy, "and that was that. But there was a definite understanding that if the games were not over by race times for these three classic races, the games would be interrupted to allow for the racing telecasts." We asked Dr. Levy if it would not have been possible to sponsor the regular Saturday race telecasts, and he answered yes, but that it would be hard to buy a half -hour turf show on the screens as against the approximately two-hour show purchased for baseball. The whole television picture is confusing. Racing consistently outdraws baseball at the gate most everywhere, but the audience rating of the World Series on TV is greater than any racing show. Offhand, it doesnt quite make sense, but it is a hint that racing is growing competitively stronger with all other sports as a spectator sport. Baseball is still tremendously popular, except that people wont spend the time or seemingly make the effort to get to the park. Brought to them on a -TV screen, they enjoy it. But as for showing up at the parks, they can take it or leave it. We still insist that other than the logical way of presenting a few big stake races like the classics, nobodyshas yet come up with a formula -for an acceptable turf TV show, and by acceptable, we mean one that will sell to sponsors on its own merits as entertainment. In other words, racing TV pix have been geared to what racing leaders THINK the public should be educated to. This is all well and good, except that it has tended toward dullness as true entertainment. Maybe if the entertainment angles were stressed, and the so-called educational aspects subordinated, turf shows - would be more saleable. With TV time becoming valuable, it would seem that sponsorship is a necessity to get any show on the screens. It is a problem that needs a fresh approach.

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