Celebrating, or Trying To, on Derby Countdown

Highlights from a memorable weekend, on TV and otherwise.

A security guard had to climb up to watch for trouble in the Paddock

Remember, it is Sweeps month, in addition to Derby Week and the Rain Festival, so TV stations are working hard to produce local content. Local TV stations are spending a load of money, and the weather coverage is costing them, as Bill Lamb explained to distraught “Glee” fans last week. Lamb said the station got tons of calls from irate Glee watchers when their show was pre-empted for tornado coverage, so he had to point out in a Point of View that not only was the station obligated to provide viewers with storm coverage, it cost him $20K in one night.

So last night, I guess, Fox41 was spared the pre-emption forced upon stations with 11 p.m. newscasts, because the news about Osama Bin Laden’s death came between 10 and 11. So local 11 p.m. newscasts were pre-empted, again, this time for a big national story.

Balloon Glow Coverage: Friday night’s Balloon Glow coverage on WBKI-TV, hosted by Louisville Live hosts Tara Bassett and Becca White, was remarkable for the commercials sold in it, especially the one for Early Times. Of course, the traffic near Bowman, where I rode by on my bike about 8, was a mess, prompting one woman to break the law and hit an official with her car.

Saturday Morning: WLKY-TV is the only station that stayed with the Marathon and Balloon Race throughout Saturday morning. And while this coverage is challenging (how many times, really, can you say on the air that runners are going by and are excited), the broadcast featured good aerial views and a knowledgeable race expert, Swag Hartel, with Karen Roby at the Marathon finish.  Matt Milosevich got the plum assignment of interviewing balloon race pilots in Indiana.

WAVE’s Special: I didn’t catch it, but my Mom said she really liked the WAVE one-hour special from Churchill Downs Saturday night with Kent Taylor and Mike Hartnett. WAVE is covering the Bed Race live tonight at 7.

As for the Track: I got to Opening Night at about 11, in time to get a free parking spot next door and to pass a bunch of drunks walking out. While the 38K attendance figure is impressive, most people I talked with, and some who were interviewed on local TV, said that turning the track into a nightclub isn’t doing much for racing.

And track management, based on Horse-racing?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Home|p”>this interview in the Courier, recognizes that racing isn’t the path to financial stability, even implying that Arlington Park in Chicago may not survive as part of Churchill’s holdings.

The crowd in the paddock, packed shoulder to shoulder, was almost exclusively very young and uninterested in racing. I’d be surprised if you could find a betting ticket is the sea of humanity around the stage. And not everyone was thrilled with things, like my pal Larry, who had trouble finding a Mint Julep.

The event is being touted as a big success, though, with officials using the oxymoronic “new tradition” to indicate more nights like that one are coming.  Still, the bottom line is that betting on racing has declined 21.5 percent since 2005, and Churchill is being forced to diversify its business.