CRAWFORD BLOG | A behind-the-scenes look at covering a stormy Preakness
WDRB's Eric Crawford provides a behind-the-scenes look at covering the Preakness Stakes when a thunderstorm hits, and everyone's plans are washed away.
Sunday, May 17th 2015, 12:49 AM EDT
BALTIMORE (WDRB) — It was about the time every year that I'm ready to retire from writing about horse racing. The Preakness Stakes was a half-hour away. For a second straight year I had no seat in the Preakness press box. I'd been wandering around the infield news conference area killing time before the race, when the skies began to darken.
The radar looked ominous. John Lewis and I had escaped the grandstand where the grumbling by patrons (and rightfully so) was beginning to turn to anger that plumbing issues had shut down most restrooms — including those in the press box, by the way. It's the second time I've been at a Triple Crown race when the grandstand plumbing failed. It also happened at the Belmont a few years back.
So my plan was to go to the infield tent where they hold the post-race news conference, then hope to find a TV somewhere on which to watch the race, and a seat where I could type on my laptop. (Hat tip to WAVE's Kent Taylor, by the way, who found a tent where they were dishing out free crab cakes. One of the highlights of the day.)
Then the storm came. The radar predicted a direct hit at race time. And if you were betting on the radar, you cashed in. The metal beams of the media tent began to shake. Flaps blew open, and then the rains came.
Baltimore police began to file into the tent. Then a bunch of white-clad Navy midshipmen. Jeannine Edwards of ESPN was standing beside me on a chair taking pictures. I took some live video for Periscope.
It's at this point that I feel a little like Marlin Perkins on the old Mutual of Omaha “Wild Kingdom” TV shows. Marlin would always be a safe distance from the wildlife, while Jim Fowler would be observing or dealing with it from close range.
We used to make fun of Marlin saying things like, “While Jim wrestles with the mother wildebeest, I monitor the air conditioner in the helicopter to make sure it remains in working condition.”
While I sat in the tent wondering what had come of my life, John Lewis got to the rail near the finish line to try to shoot the race, which now was proceeding during a monsoon, even as the Pimlico infield had been evacuated.
John got the best shots he could get. He got a nice shot of Victor Espinoza pouring water out of his riding boot. I caught the race on the track loudspeakers, via radio, and finally, through watching the replay three or four times.
There's always plenty of time after the race. NBC takes 20 minutes with the winners, before they bring them to talk to the media.
And in this case, the winners were the only ones who mattered. None of the other seven really got to run his race in this one. This story was all Bob Baffert, all American Pharoah, Espinoza, and the Zayat family who owns him.
And it was the weather. This freakish storm that came for the race, then went as quickly as it came. Given American Pharoah's name plays on the word “pharaoh,” (I'll have to go to therapy to begin spelling the word correctly again after all this), the notion of plagues immediately came to mind. All those years of Bible school. You can't escape them. So I had my lead. And Baffert, Ahmed Zayat and the others were eloquent enough to lead my story along.
So a day that otherwise was a wash wound up with a memorable story, and that's all as a writer that you really work for.
I'll confess, sometimes, given the web response to the stories, covering horse racing seems like an act of charity. The readership just isn't there on a day-to-day basis. I'd have done better at the NBA combine or something.
But horse racing does still have the ability to create memorable moments, and that happened during a rainy two minutes Saturday in Baltimore. And when a Triple Crown comes into play, or when the Kentucky Derby is run, people do pay attention, especially in these parts.
John and I taped our TV segments, and an internet-only discussion that runs with this piece, and made our way back to the grandstand. John went to the auxiliary press box — which he had entirely to himself. I found a seat someone in the press box had vacated and worked there.
What do I make of American Pharoah? He's really good. He rolled through that slop like he had an outboard motor on him. Victor Espinoza, who went to the whip 32 times in the Kentucky Derby and took some heat for it, only showed him the whip on Saturday. He hit him a couple of small pops, but that was it. He waved it after the race, as if to say, “See? I didn't need this.”
It's 12:30 a.m. The wake-up call for the flight back comes at 5:30.
I don't know how much anyone cares about the process of all this. But it isn't always pretty, or according to plan. Usually we're improvising and just trying to make things work. The Belmont will be harder for American Pharoah. And it is a harder event to cover. But we will be there in New York.
Only two local TV stations in the nation make the commitment to cover the Triple Crown series all the way through. Both are from Louisville.
It's good to work for one of them. And I guess I have some horse racing still to cover.
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