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The new post-position draw for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, which "was introduced to make more interesting television for ESPN, turned into an embarrassing mix-up" last night, according to Bill Christine of the L.A. TIMES. This year, Churchill Downs decided to let trainers draw numbers to determine the order in which they would select post positions for the race. In previous years, the numbers drawn were the post positions. ESPN host Chris Lincoln, who was serving as both TV commentator and draw official, drew the first twelve numbers, but then "appeared confused as the selection order was drawn for the final three horses." Following a commercial break, Derby officials "ruled the entire draw would have to be redone." Churchill Downs President Tom Meeker was "angry and chagrined" by the developments. Meeker: "All of the pills were gone, and not all of the horses' names had been accounted for. ... [I]t was unfortunate and embarrassing." Christine adds that it "wasn't clear" what happened, and that even Lincoln "wasn't sure." Lincoln: "I held the pills too long" (L.A. TIMES, 4/30). In N.Y., Joseph Durso reports that the format change for the draw was made after last year's Derby broadcast got "exceptionally low ratings." Meeker, on the snafu: "It happened because we let television control it. I'm embarrassed. Racing officials should control racing" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/30). Also in N.Y., Bill Finley calls the situation "one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of horse racing" and notes Lincoln misread one of the pills, and assigned the number 15 to two horses (DAILY NEWS, 4/30). BLAME, BLAME, BLAME: In N.Y., David Grenig writes that it was Meeker's "idea to change the format" in the first place. After the broadcast, Meeker "fumed" that he was "through with ESPN." Meeker: "I'm through with Chris Lincoln. He's totally incompetent." However, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said that he is "still a big proponent of the new draw." Lukas: "I think we take it a little too lightly. We need to do it more like the NBA or NFL. We are not in the comedy business" (N.Y. POST, 4/30). Trainer Bob Baffert: "They wanted some drama -- they got it" (CNN/SI, 4/29). In Chicago, Jim O'Donnell writes that ESPN's broadcast was a "near-total disaster," adding that even after the draw confusion the telecast "continued to drift in and out of clarity." One veteran KY racing official: "This was all quite embarrassing" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/30). In Philadelphia, Dick Jerardi calls the draw show a "giant embarrassment." Jerardi: "Mostly, it was just a ridiculous episode. It should have been easy" (DAILY NEWS, 4/30).
Fox/Liberty Networks and Century Communications Corp. have reached a national distribution agreement for Fox/Liberty Network channels, including Fox Sports Net and its RSNs, FX, Fox Sports World and Fox Sports Americas. The deal brings Fox/Liberty Networks to Century subscribers in more than 1.1 million homes in 14 states (Fox). The deal means Century subscribers in L.A. will "finally" get Fox Sports West 2, according to Scott Hettrick of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Century had "been one of the last two major holdouts along with Comcast" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 4/30).
Tuesday night's Knicks-Heat playoff game earned a 6.1 rating on MSG, the highest rating for a Knicks game this season (N.Y. POST, 4/30)....CTV says that the 28% decrease in its NBA ratings this season was caused by the absence of prime-time telecasts. Last year, the net aired three prime- time games. CTV's Sunday afternoon NBA numbers were down 15% (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 4/30)....The Magic will appoint Dennis Neumann as their radio play-by-play announcer next season. Neumann has been studio host for Magic telecasts (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 4/30)....In Dallas, Holly Cain gives "thumbs down" to Formula One's new TV deal with FSN. Whereas "easy access" ESPN and ESPN2 used to do live broadcasts, FSN affils "decide when to air the races, and sometimes that means a tape delay." While SpeedVision carries all the races live, "few" TX stations carry that channel (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/30)....SportsFan Radio has acquired exclusive rights to broadcast and syndicate national radio coverage of the '98 Preakness. SportsFan has also added Cleveland's WKNR as an affil (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 4/27 issue)....In N.Y., Neal Travis reports that The Marquee Group is "getting into women's sports and books" and is repping Ellen Ladowsky, who co-authored "How To Dump A Guy: A Coward's Manual" (N.Y. POST, 4/30).