CNBC’s ‘Run for the Roses’
seems like a one-trick pony

          Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2009

Does the typical CNBC viewer also spend time at the racetrack?

There must be a study that says so. Otherwise, the "Run for the Roses" hourlong documentary hosted by Melissa Francis, which initially aired just days before the 2009 Kentucky Derby, would seem to have a very limited shelf life. Given that the better CNBC documentaries can run for more than a year during holidays and weekends, sending a host down to Louisville in advance of a once-a-year event might seem like a lot of work for nothing.

"Run for the Roses" will probably get some continued airplay around the time of some upcoming biggies in the horse racing world, the Preakness, Belmont and Breeders Cup. However, its relevance to horse racing in general is minimal. It's a concise overview of the history of the Derby and the highs and lows of 2008 champion Big Brown.

The likely reasons for CNBC tackling the subject of the Derby are 1) it is broadcast by sister network NBC, which also has the forthcoming Preakness to advertise; 2) a lot of rich people own racehorses, and 3) CNBC apparently "outsourced" most of this project to Bill Kurtis' fine production operation, so the overall CNBC investment was minimal and amounted mostly to Francis delivering just narration and a few on-camera comments.

Mostly the program states patently obvious horse racing facts, such as champion horses have high stud value, riding race horses is a dangerous job, gambling competition exists from lotteries and casinos, the Derby is as much a social event as a sporting event where people wear hats, and trainers and jockeys long to win it.

The most interesting comments come from Daily Racing Form publisher Steven Crist, who explained why the industry shied away from television decades ago. Crist said the mind-set was, "If we put our races on TV, nobody will come out to the track anymore." He added, "That was a pretty serious misjudgment."

Francis did point out — we didn't know this — that racehorses reach 40 mph, and that qualification for the Derby generally requires being in the top 20 of "graded earnings."

Rather dubiously, Francis promotes that nonsensical statistic of how much money an event "pumps into" the local economy. Francis claims the Derby "pumps more than $75 million into the Louisville economy."

Francis looks great, and her narration is well done. Much of the footage though does not feature her, but recycled clips of previous races, most of them involving Big Brown and Big Brown's owner, Mike Iavarone.

Kurtis Productions is a top-notch purveyor of relevant documentaries and investigations (though the spelling of "thuroughbred" in a couple places will ding the credibility meter a bit). "Run for the Roses" is extremely light fare, likely conceived for limited use before this year's Derby and next, and maybe — maybe — a few scattered viewings during the 12 months in between. Anything more than that is a longshot.

Other reviews of "Run for the Roses":

David Hinckley, N.Y. Daily News: "Feels like a curious hybrid of a business story and a promotion for its subject."

Roger Catlin, Hartford Courtant: "Way too many wooshing, explosive soundtracks on straight network documentaries these days. Turn it down!"

Teresa Genaro, Brooklyn Backstretch: "Favorite part was a discussion of the history of Churchill ... Show at times seemed to be a thinly disguised advertisement for TwinSpires."

"Run for the Roses: The Kentucky Derby and the Business of Horse Racing" (2009)

Featuring: Mike Iavarone, Julie Koenig-Loignon, Steven Crist, John Asher, Robert Evans, Anne Peters, Chris McCarron, Pat Day, Gary Stevens, Lincoln Collins, Robert Frankel

Anchor: Melissa Francis

Executive producer: Bill Kurtis
Executive producer: Donna LaPietra
Executive producer: Sharon Barrett
Writer/producer: Rachel Ruiz
Editor: George Zwierzynski Jr.
Project manager: Katie Bryan
Associate producer: Dana McClellan
Camera: Dave Frederick, Paul Jacobson, Oral User, Darryl Miller, Roel Robles
Assistant editor: Suzanne Johns
Field audio: Joel Sartori, Dave Mendez, Robert Nocerino
Audio director/original music: David Huizenga
Post production audio: Sam Fishkin
Post production manager: Matt Greif
Production assistant: Breana Leader
Executive producer: Charles Schaeffer
Producer: Kevin Kane
Coordinating producer: Jamie Corsi
Creative director: Victoria Todis
Graphic designer: Jackie Dessel
Senior producer on-air promotions: Lisa Wernick
Vice president strategic planning: Raymond Borelli
Senior Web producer: Pat Fastook
Managing editor, CNBC: Tyler Mathisen
Additional materials: NBC Sports, Associated Press, Corbis, NBC, Streamline Films Inc., Kinetic Corp., Matt Goins Photography and Carlos Ramos
Produced by: Kurtis Productions Ltd. for CNBC

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