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Breeders' Cup Misses Out on West's Best

November 06, 1998|LARRY STEWART

David Michaels, the producer of NBC's 4 1/2 hours of Breeders' Cup coverage on Saturday, lives in Agoura and grew up in West Los Angeles.

It's worth noting that he is a Southern Californian because in a sport where there is a significant East-West rivalry, Western horsemen have long believed network television's coverage of horse racing has been slanted toward the East.

A case in point has always been the on-air people NBC has used on the Breeders' Cup since its inception in 1984. The vast majority have come from the East.

This year's crew is no exception. It includes host Tom Hammond and analysts Mike Battaglia, Chris McCarron's brother Gregg, Bob Neumeier, injured jockey Mike Smith, who rode Skip Away to victory in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, and Trevor Denman.

Take Denman out of the mix and you have an all-Eastern crew.

Denman lives in San Dimas and since 1983 has worked at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Pomona, where he has won much adulation for calling races. This will be his 10th Breeders' Cup for NBC, and he has yet to call a Breeders' Cup race.

It's like having Mark McGwire on your team and asking him to bunt.

NBC's race caller is Belmont Park's Tom Durkin. He's the only one who has called a Breeders' Cup race, and that's not going to change.

Michaels, 48, spent nine years as a top sports producer at CBS and has been at NBC since 1990. He became the Breeders' Cup producer in 1993, when Terry Ewert, now CBS Sports' executive producer, left to join the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee.

Michaels, unlike Eastern television executives, is well aware that we have some pretty good horse racing in this part of the country.

He has been going to Southern California racetracks since the early 1960s, when his father, Jay, a television executive who died of cancer in 1983, and mother, Lila, introduced him and his older brother Al, the ABC sportscaster, to the sport.

He calls the Breeders' Cup his favorite single-day event, and says it is also the toughest to produce.

"It's not one show, its seven separate half-hour shows," he said.

Michaels is also a big Denman fan.

"I love Trevor," he said. "But Tom Durkin is a great race caller too."

He said he doesn't foresee a change because having Durkin call the races has become a tradition.

Denman has never complained, at least not publicly.

"I never expected to call the races and I've never asked to," he said between races at Santa Anita on Wednesday before taking a late flight to Louisville, Ky.

But there is some good news. Michaels has given Denman a more significant role this year. He'll be working alongside Hammond.

"I don't know if I'd call it a promotion, but it does mean more exposure, and I'm happy about that," Denman said.

He's not being billed as the co-host, but his increased role at least is a step toward a little more balance.


NBA players aren't the only ones locked out these days. Members of the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) have been locked out by ABC.

The action was taken after union technicians walked out on ABC Sports on Monday, preventing the network from doing its usual "Monday Night Football" pregame show from the ESPN Zone in Baltimore. No Chris Berman or Frank Gifford. Surely you noticed.

The pregame show originated from Philadelphia, where the Eagles played the Dallas Cowboys, and was handled by the game announcers.

ABC used replacement technicians to cover the game, and is planning to use replacements on its six college football telecasts Saturday.

The person who needs replacing is the ABC schedule maker. The West Coast gets cheated out of a big early game again. While most of the nation gets Penn State-Michigan at 9 a.m. followed by a regional telecast, the West Coast gets Washington at Oregon at 12:30 p.m. followed by--and heaven only knows why--Fresno State at San Diego State at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, UCLA and USC go head-to-head at 3:30. The Bruins' game at Oregon State is the main Fox Sports Net Pacific 10 game and is on Fox Sports West, with Steve Physioc and Tom Ramsey announcing. USC at Stanford is a Fox Sports Net syndicated game on Channel 9, with Barry Tompkins and David Norrie.


These are lean days for Larry Burnett, the former ESPN and Prime Ticket "Press Box" sportscaster. He's been working with the Tompkins-Norrie Fox Sports Net team as a sideline reporter, and that's about it.

His job on the Laker pre- and postgame shows on KLAC is on hold.

"Maybe my brother-in-law will give me a job managing his career," Burnett said.

Professional wrestling sensation Bill Goldberg is the brother of Burnett's wife, Barbara.

"I've known him since he was about 10," Burnett said. "Actually, he was a pretty nerdy kid--thick, dark-rimmed glasses and all."


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