A piece of the (TV) action

When it comes down to involving gamblers in the action, progress has been made on the nationally televised horse races.

Time was, the major stakes races on TV looked like opera guild fund raisers. Most tracks were like Lake Wobegon Downs. All the women wore flowers. All the men wore neck gear. All the racing connections were clean. At any time during the telecast, you expected people to waltz.

Horse-race betting, shown on a screen, has frequently been presented as an aside rather than a foundation of the sport. In the motion picture 'Seabiscuit,' which many thought was a testament to the game, gambling was a rumor. Even between races, nobody was observed leaving his or her seat. After a race, people kissed each other, not pari-mutuel tickets.

And even today, most of the television coverage takes place where the sun does shine, and shine brightly -- at the stakes stables that look like mini-boutiques, and in the owners' boxes. Where ever they are.

Put on a race featuring the best-bred and fastest horses going, ban betting, then see who shows up.



The curious.

And a few others.

Nobody wants to turn a major stakes race into anything like a floating crap game; but the average home viewer might be slightly more interested in betting a horse to make a tax payment than buying a horse as a tax write-off.

Poker thrives on television featuring everybody from mathematicians to dimly lit celebrities, who wouldn't recognize a hand if it tapped him or her on the shoulder. Nutty bets and bad beats make for good television.

To some handicappers, a big stakes race on television causes the willies. Horses that don't favor one side of their bodies over the other, or shake their heads wildly side to side all the way through the post parade and warm-up, what's that about?

The road to the Breeder's Cup is indeed paved with gold and platinum credit card receipts.

Still and all, no matter the network or the stakes race, the gamblers are getting a bigger share of the television time in the form of selections from the experts. Don't you just love those jockeys-turned-announcers giving their picks? They're reminiscent of former quarterbacks analyzing the NFL. Though witty and insightful, I'm not sure former jockeys and ex-quarterbacks could successfully handicap a rerun of the hare versus the tortoise.

There is on the ESPN horse race coverage this season a feature called 'Who Do You Like?' when the television experts get to make their selections for the upcoming event. More chances are being taken by the handicappers this year. High-rent-district reporter Jeannine Edwards hit a nice double-figure payoff a few weeks ago. Randy Moss remains the only TV type with a consistently creative eye for the unobvious. Many of those handicapping on television, however, couldn't stop a race at the top of the stretch, bet then, and come close.

This might be a helpful follow-up to the feature 'Who do you like?' one day.

How much do you like it?