Last week Bob Baedeker, Chris Kotulak, Frank Lyons, and Frank Mirahmadi were let go among 20 firings at a company free-falling from horse racing’s pulse thanks to questionable leadership.
Who watches TVG, Television Games Network, anymore? I, for one, continue to catch coverage on the seminal horse racing/wagering network but it is no longer for their “mainstream” coverage. Contract disputes for track signals have resulted in a loss of important winter racing from Florida, Louisiana and California.
The formation of HRTV, Horse Racing Television, caused key Kentucky Derby preps run at Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park and Santa Anita Park to keep the focus away from TVG. Churchill Downs and Arlington Park are major meetings exclusive to HRTV. Currently, NYRA allows a choice of network coverage for their signals which makes the more familiar winter (Aqueduct), spring (Aqueduct/Belmont Park), summer (Belmont Park/Saratoga), fall (Belmont Park) station (read: HRTV) a natural to follow year-round horse racing information in New York and around the country.
This recent company reorganization is not the way to do it. Firing the most enjoyable and informative quartet on the network have made the channel unwatchable to me for anything but “The Quarters,” thanks to Les Onaka, Dave Weaver, and Mike Joyce as well as “International Racing” primarily from Japan. Too often I've read or heard about fans turning off the sound to avoid listening to annoying voices. TVG silenced four of their best voices.
Their tenuous connections to both “Dead Track Running,” Hollywood Park, and to a fashionable boutique meeting at Del Mar, are the “exclusive” signals that keep the network from sinking into the abyss.
What is maddening at TVG is the bent on comedy and conflict at the expense of taste and integrity. Horse racing at the essence is “The Sport of Kings” where majestic thoroughbreds and powerful quarterhorses give their all, doing what they were bred to do, for our entertainment. A select few can call the industry their profession.
Jokes, sometimes esoteric, by on-air talent take the focus away from the ingredients that make horse racing “must see TV” for me. Who are we really entertaining here? Is it the staff or the viewer?
I have no problem sprinkling a few zingers in…Bob Baffert was famous for them once-upon-a-time. Unfortunately, when networks and individuals go overboard in an environment of relationships and respect, integrity is lost. In Baffert’s case he’s carefully selecting what he makes public, since his chauvinistic remarks aimed at Jenine Sahadi before the Santa Anita Derby in 2000 drew such ire. Baffert is a Hall of Fame trainer and he’s rebuilt his media image with the skill that made him a household name and the face of thoroughbred trainers over the likes of D.Wayne Lukas.
TVG may never regain the luster lost…unless BetFair has something up their collective sleeves. Current management at the company hasn’t been able to right the sinking ship.
Indulge me with a few personal words about those jettisoned:
I grew up watching Mr. Baedeker and his brother, Rick, a former race track president, hosting a horse racing show on KDOC, channel 56 here in the Los Angeles area. “Baedeker’s Sport of Kings” ran for eight years. His insights, along with his brother’s, on handicapping are indispensible. Perhaps Bob’s frank reassessments of his opinions and plays on TVG after-the-fact were better teachers than his many winning wagers. He’s forgotten much more about the game than I, and many of you, know. I hope that he will regain a foothold in the Los Angeles horse racing media, be it television or radio, aside from his tout service “Baedeker’s Guide.” Hey, Mr. B? How about putting another show together with your Gelato-scoopin’ brother? You both would have viewer/listener #1 right here!
As hosts go at TVG, he was the most knowledgeable and classy presenter of the principle hosts. His strong baritone voice clearly disseminated novel or banal facts with aplomb. Despite his quarter horse background, Kotulak was also equally effective when pressed into thoroughbred duty. He offered solid opinions about handicapping while throwing softballs to the expert analysts. Just the other day, I saw the reverence and skill Kotulak brought to a “TVG Legends” show about Blane Schvaneveldt. With his crew, Kotulak captured the skill, loyalty, friendship, and care the lifetime quarter horse trainer possessed in his life. Chris, if I may call you by your first name, keep wearin’ that 10 gallon! I’m very sure the industry hasn’t seen the last of you. Los Alamitos and Ruidoso Downs, are you paying attention to the quality individual that has come available? Perhaps even Santa Anita Park or Del Mar, heed this notice!
This Irish-born lifetime horseman has single-handedly piqued my skills in race horse observation. Back in 2006 during TVG’s coverage of “The Works” at Churchill Downs, he pointed out what a magnificent beast BARBARO was going into the Kentucky Derby. I remember his comments about BARBARO’s peak condition and turf stride, long and powerful, but hard into the dirt.
He brought a legitimate candor to analyzing the race, not usually from a statistics angle, but from a real-life perspective of barn intentions and horse fitness/conformation.
Mr. Lyons, your infrequent visits to the TVG set over the last few years have resulted in fewer visits from this observer to that station. I hope that horse racing gives you everything you want in the years to come. Selfishly, I hope you want to give horse racing fans like myself what we want…come back to the on-air media to educate us about the grace of the thoroughbred athlete through the genuine love of the animal you possess.
Last, but certainly not least.
Do you want to hear how talented he is??? Listen to this…
And, imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery for the California Fair Circuit Track Announcer…
Frank Mirahmahdi is what the network so sorely needs. He is an individual commenting about horse racing with talent to deliver it in the appropriate manner. Whether serious or humorous, Frank (if I can be so personal), you were really a must-hear. I hope to run into you at the track to tell you how much you add to the game.