Section: Sports,  Page: B2

Date: Friday, July 22, 2011

Saratoga Race Course is getting the national exposure most horse folks believes it deserves.

After having most of its Grade I stakes on regional sports network MSG+ the past two years, the Saratoga meet will see its featured races on NBC and Versus as part of a "Summer at Saratoga" series.

Jon Miller, NBC's president of programming, told the story of how that came about in an interview earlier this week.

How did NBC go about acquiring the deal?

"Ken Schanzer, who was the president of NBC Sports, worked really hard and was able to reassemble the Triple Crown after the Belmont had been on ABC the past five years. We really wanted to find a way to expand our relationship and grow our relationship with NYRA.

"In the course of conversations I had internally and that I had with (NYRA president) Charlie Hayward and also with (NYRA television strategist) Len DeLuca, we said, look, we know that Belmont is really important to NYRA, but Saratoga, while not Belmont, is still a very important part of a NYRA business plan and model. We looked at our schedule, and we figured between NBC Sports and Versus, which is our cable network, we could actually accommodate the entire Saratoga meeting, once each week.

"Also, by giving it a consistent time period, we gave people at home a place to go find it, and know that every Saturday at 5 o'clock, either on NBC Sports or on Versus, you were going to see some live racing from Saratoga.

"The name, 'Summer at Saratoga,' comes quite honestly from when I was a kid growing up, I would always hear and read in books about people, the well-to-do and the well-heeled, would go 'summer at Saratoga.' I had never heard 'summer' as a verb. I thought that was such a cool phrase.

"I went to Charlie and said, 'I'd like to try and do this if you're game.' He was all for it. We were actually able to work on some stuff and got an eighth race on the schedule."

Do you feel the audience will be different than for the Triple Crown races, and, if so, will that be reflected in the coverage?

"I don't think it will be as large. You're still going to get your horse-racing enthusiasts. What I'm also hoping to get is I'd love to be able to attract the casual viewer. I'd like to get the fan in the summer who's looking for some live, quality sports programming, who wants to see Uncle Mo, who might want to see Shackleford, who wants to see some of these great horses who are racing up there."

Would you have been able to pull this off without NBC's acquisition of Versus?

"No, not at all. Versus was the real key to the whole thing because they've been there to really help us blow out our Triple Crown coverage. We added 23 hours of live horse-racing coverage to them for the Triple Crown, and they'll be doing five of the eight (Saratoga) races, so we really think we're on to a good combination when we work things together."

Whether the race is on NBC or Versus, will it have a consistent look?

"It will have a consistent look all the way through -- same announcers, same producers, same directors, same talent."

Pete Dougherty is the Times Union's sports TV/radio columnist. Reach him at 454-5416 or pdougherty@timesunion.com. Visit the sports media blog at http://blog.timesunion.com/sportsmedia.

Sound bytes

1The NBA dutifully released its 2011-12 schedule this week, including the national TV games, even though the players are locked out. Should they return in time for a full season, don't expect to see a lot of Glens Falls native Jimmer Fredette. His Sacramento Kings have only six national appearances, all but one on NBA-TV.

2One of HBO Sports' final productions under the guidance of outgoing president Ross Greenburg will be "Derek Jeter 3K," a one-hour documentary on the Yankees shortstop's chase for 3,000 hits, premiering at 9 p.m. Thursday. Greenburg announced his resignation earlier this week after 33 years at the network, 11 as division president, to develop other projects.

3Mike "Doc" Emrick and Glens Falls native Dave Strader are too good as hockey announcers not to be heard regularly by a national audience, but fans of the New Jersey Devils and Phoenix Coyotes are in mourning. The broadcasters have decided to leave their respective teams to accept full-time positions with NBC/Versus.Weekend's best

Friday, 8 p.m.: Arena football, Spokane at Jacksonville (NFL Network). As an aside, former Albany Firebird "Touchdown" Eddie Brown is an AFL Hall of Fame finalist.

Saturday, 4 p.m.: Major league baseball, San Diego at Philadelphia (Fox-23). Maybe Dick Enberg, who is a Padres team announcer, can make a guest appearance in the booth.

Saturday, 9 p.m.: Women's World Cup of Softball, Japan at U.S. (ESPN2). Japan thrashed the Americans 7-0 last week in a Vancouver tournament.

Sunday, 8 a.m.: Cycling, Tour de France (Versus). For those not paying attention, which covers most of the U.S., this is the final stage.

Monday, 7 p.m.: Major league baseball, Pittsburgh at Atlanta (ESPN). The Pirates haven't played on ESPN since 2002. That was four managers ago.


(all programs air 5-6 p.m.)

Saturday: American Oaks (NBC)

July 30: Diana, Jim Dandy (Versus)

Aug. 6: Whitney, Test (Versus)

Aug. 7: Vanderbilt, Honorable Miss (Versus)

Aug. 13: Sword Dancer (Versus)

Aug. 20: Alabama (NBC)

Aug. 27: Travers, King's Bishop (NBC)

Sept. 3: Woodward, Forego (Versus)


Discuss these and other topics in the "Best Seat In My House" blog. Go to http://blog.timesunion.com/sportsmedia.