Preakness Telecast Aftermath: No Sweat

I was going to leave this sleeping dog lying where it was, but the dog is being kicked so often, it’s time to come to its defense.

There is no denying that NBC analysts Donna Brothers and Gary Stevens both became concerned by the way Shackleford was sweating and acting up before the Preakness. So the horse wins, still dripping sweat crossing the finish line, and everyone is in an uproar for being misled by the experts.

Well, guess what? Brothers and Stevens are indeed experts and know how to look at a horse as well as anyone. They are getting paid to provide viewers with their observations and that’s all they did. They both observed Shackleford sweating and kicking and bucking in the saddling area. Well, guess what again? He WAS sweating and kicking and bucking, and it was not exactly earth-shattering news anyway considering everyone watching the telecast could see it clearly.

What Brothers and Stevens did was inform the viewers that he had continued to sweat and get worked up in front of the stands and on the far turn heading to the gate. Not at any point did either of them tell you the horse was going to lose, just as they would never state flat-out that a horse who looks fantastic is going to win. Folks, they’re horses, and they react to things in different ways. There is no guide book that states emphatically if a horse is sweating up before a race he automatically is going to lose. Go back to the 1977 Kentucky Derby telecast and listen to Eddie Arcaro all but dismiss Seattle Slew’s chances in the race as he went to the post looking as if he were in a car wash.

In short, Brothers and Stevens did their job by relaying their observations. What you do with those observations is up to you. Anyway, if you had already bet the horse, what are you going to do with only a few minutes to post? Bet someone else in addition to Shackleford? Well, if you had, no big deal; you won anyway. If you didn’t bet Shackleford, it shouldn’t have been of any concern to you that the horse was sweating and acting up. You had your own horse to worry about. If you were merely rooting for Shackleford, so you had a minute or two of concern. Think how much happier you were when he won. Winning with lower expectations is always more fun.

Some have criticized Brothers and Stevens for not knowing ahead of time that Shackleford also got hot before the Florida Derby. Sure, they could have gone to all 14 trainers before the race and asked them to tell them every one of their horses’ pre-race habits, quirks, and idiosyncrasies. Of course, they would have had to do that for all 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby as well. In a perfect world that would have helped when they made their comments in the Preakness, but now that the rare horse has surfaced who defied his pre-race antics I’ll bet Brothers and Stevens will learn from it and get more information on the horses. It’s not easy to be considered an expert at something and put your reputation on the line in front of millions of people

And Shackleford may have gotten washy before the Florida Derby, but not like this. Some horses do not like being saddled out in a large open area in front of a packed grandstand of screaming fans and masses of people hovering over them, especially in 80-degree weather. They are used to the confinement and privacy of saddling stalls. Even the ones who don’t like saddling stalls, the Preakness is a drastic alternative. Remember when Alternation went ballistic in the starting gate of the Rebel Stakes, flipping over and thrashing about? Well, few know that had already gotten hot and agitated saddling in a similar environment as the Preakness.

Oh, and I didn’t hear anyone comment on Brothers’ and Stevens’ observations about Sway Away totally washing out. His race reflected that. I guess no one noticed.

Brothers also commented that Mucho Macho Man looked lighter than he had in the Derby. Did that contribute to his sixth-place finish or was it losing his front shoe? Or maybe he just got beat, period. Does it matter? Again, it was merely an observation. It didn’t mean that Mucho Macho Man wasn’t going to win the Preakness. He’s 17 hands and all legs and has been going through growth spurts. He won’t even turn 3 until June 15. So, if he looked lighter to Brothers, that was her observation. The colt’s connections were thrilled with the way he was doing. That was their observation.

So, after the race a message board lit up with people complaining the racing fans were cheated by not knowing that Mucho Mucho Man lost weight. Cheated? Brothers did not weigh the horse. This wasn’t official. Maybe to another set of eyes he didn’t look lighter. Do these same people feel cheated losing a bet on a $10,000 claimer who may have lost weight going into the race? How many horses that lose a race were lighter than they were in their previous race? Wanna bet a lot more than you think? The only difference is, you don’t have Brothers or Stevens or any other experts around to give their observations. The money you bet in that $10,000 has the same value as the money you bet in the Preakness.

That asks the question: should all horses’ weight be made public in the past performances? They do it in some other countries and it sure sounds like a good idea if you can coordinate such an undertaking. We have slightly more horses competing at once than Hong Kong for example. And who is going to supervise the weighing? A track official? The horse’s trainer on the honor system? Where do you do the weighing? How many scales do you need? Do you weigh all 75-90 horses at each track the day before they race? Multiply that number by five or six and that’s a lot of weighing in a one-week period, every week. Anyway, in a perfect world, it’s a good idea.

Getting back to the subject at hand, stop with the post-race second-guessing. NBC is fortunate enough to have an astute horseman in Stevens and an equally astute horsewoman in Brothers sharing their observations. It’s up to you to do with them what you like in the couple of minutes available to you. But don’t jump all over them when, on the rare occasion, a horse does something most horses are not supposed to do.

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