Twenty years ago today, the Television Games Network was launched in a Santa Monica, California studio and forever changed the face of American horse racing. Actually, past tense is all wrong: TVG is the face that Thoroughbred racing presents to horse racing and sports fans everywhere.
At noon today, TVG reprised the open of its first ever broadcast, hosted by Ken Rudulph and co-hosted by analyst Matt Carothers, who remains one of the network’s most recognizable faces. It was at a time when, according to a feature on the rare birth over Thoroughbred twins, “35,000 horses are born every year.”
For a debut effort, remote-audio glitches notwithstanding, the first show holds up.
Rudulph and Carothers’ chemistry was instantaneous, the banter lively, an interview/feature with “Jimmy the Clocker,” and “Trackside Live” visits with the late Chris Antley, and later an entry of Richard Mandella and actor Jack Klugman, were live from Hollywood Park.
So what if the audio was spotty, sometimes non-existent, as was the first ever race broadcast on the network, the day’s opener from Belmont Park? By comparison, if you’ve been to Saratoga on an opening day, you would be more understanding of the need for a race over the track.
Aside from bringing a plethora of human interest stories to a sports audience—racing has more of them than any other sport, or so the late, great Red Smith once said—TVG was there mostly to promote a burgeoning gambling enterprise. And TVG on-air talent has done a good job of that from day one.
However, two years after launch, the network was on life support. Anticipated legislation in support of Advance Deposit Wagering failed. The staff was downsized by half, and those who remained found their paychecks 20% lighter in the next pay period.
But through a series of mergers and corporate acquisitions, TVG has emerged as, well, “America’s Racing Network.” Some say for better; some say for worse. Then that’s what horse racing’s all about.
Beholding to the industry for backside, front-side, and horseman access, and given that many hosts and analysts were born into racing families, blind loyalty is understandable.
But that’s not necessarily been a good thing for gamblers. Horseplayers are a cantankerous, curmudgeonly and suspicious lot who do not suffer time-filling chatter well. These critics likely never tried their hand at broadcasting and while TV is not radio, dead air does not get people to watch–even if viewers might be more interested in odds-board machinations and equine body language.
As noted, times do change; 35,000 foals per year have become more like 20,000. Everything costs more and as expenses, the number of deep-pocketed partnerships, emergence of super trainers who deal in seven-figure stock have increased, competitiveness, the number of horsemen and betting opportunities have decreased.
With betting prospects and field-size shrinking, competition for gambling dollars has become extremely competitive, cut-throat even. And in also trying to cater to the lottery mentality of today’s gamblers, the number of multi-leg wagers, both horizontal and vertical, has increased. Payoffs are bigger. So is risk.
Since racing at the highest level is the focus of today’s game, the breeding industry is all about high-end bloodstock and breeding farms spend money touting their matings to well healed, would-be Kentucky Derby-winning owners. Breeders are about the only segment of the industry that can afford the kind of dollars television advertising demands.
Another obligation TVG has is to racetracks who need betting handle to survive which includes TVG’s own wagering platform and competing ADWs. Consequently, their betting advice focuses on horizontal multi-race bets, Pick 4s, 5s and 6s, requiring bettors to spread their money around, hoping to score.
Average horseplayers, who are legion, cannot compete effectively because their limited bankrolls won’t support the cost of giving themselves the best chance to win. Resultantly, staying liquid is/has become very difficult.
Since maybe five of every 100 bettors show a profit at year’s end—never mind enough to live on—the promotion of wagers with a higher degree of difficulty, given a plethora of good data and competition from million-dollar value-sucking computer syndicates, is not in the average player’s best interest.
Bet-takers are opting for big short term money rather than bigger long-term dollars.
TVG does a very good job keeping fans players updated, but with nary a disparaging word, and the level of equivocating can become mind-numbing. Between TVG and TVG-2 (a re-branded HRTV), the network offers a great variety of programming for every horse fan be it Thoroughbreds, Harness or Quarter-Horses.
Paid-programming supports the network from 1 to 9 a.m. when racing from European tracks begins. Starting with “The Morning Line” segment, Thoroughbred racing from every major racing circuit is featured virtually until midnight, with Harness and Quarter-Horse racing sprinkled in.
TVG does remotes from fundamentally every major racing event throughout the year, and routinely produces special programming, features, paddock reports, and remote interviews from their SoCal base and another major North American venue. It even covers the occasional horse sale.
TVG offers wagering on tracks in 31 of 38 racing jurisdictions. With the legalization of sports betting, TVG debuted a football handicapping show Sundays, “More Ways to Win,” one of 12 productions done in-house and or with partners.
There are enough nits to pick at, but I prefer to say thank you for improving the quality of life for anyone tethered to a race horse by taking racing, handicapping and horse-playing out of the closet in an entertaining fashion.