It’s been a long time since the sports world seemingly came to a screeching halt back in March. The COVID-19 pandemic took away forms of entertainment, but jobs as well.
One person who is happy to be back at work doing what he loves is Altamont’s announcer and color commentator, Kurt Becker.
Becker, who offers announcing and commentary for both motor racing and horse racing, will return to his craft this weekend when he announces the Belmont Stakes, his first event since the shutdown. However, it will hardly be the traditional broadcast, as Becker and his team will work the race remotely.
“The Belmont will be my first live event to work in three months,” Becker said. “The thing is, this will be different than what I’ve known at Belmont in the past because of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions in New York. Horse Racing Radio Network will not be on site for the Belmont.
“The host, Mike Penna, and I will be broadcasting from the horse racing radio network studios in Lexington, Kentucky. We will have one broadcaster who will be on site, but he is a full-time member of the staff for the New York Racing Association. He was cleared to be present for the Belmont whether he was working for us or not.”
In his 11 years with the HRN, this Belmont Stakes will certainly stand out, being his first race he is responsible for covering without being physically present.
“We’re going to have a small television monitor and likely have the live feed from the race track itself from the NYRA,” Becker said. “That will be the way we keep pace of the action. We’ll keep one eye on our monitor and one eye on our broadcast notes. I’m sure it’ll take some adjusting, but we’ll get through it.
“Having the direct feed allows some advantages for us. One such advantage is with the live feed, that monitor will constantly be showing what’s going on at Belmont Park. We won’t be at the mercy of tuning into an NBC affiliate.”
Becker says that element of the broadcast leading up to the race is the ever-changing betting odds leading up to post time, which could be even more prominent this time around. While Belmont isn’t allowing spectators for the race, there are ways to bet remotely.
“One of the things before the race is updating the audience on any change in the betting odds, because money is constantly coming through the windows, especially in those last 30 minutes before the race,” Becker said. “Typically the live feed from the race track will keep a constant graphic on the screen showing up to the second odds for each horse. It gives us a consistent pipeline of information.”
While he hasn’t seen the horses run any practice rounds in person, Becker has been at work looking at previous races and old tapes of the horses to prepare for his broadcast.
“Normally I would have arrived in New York on Wednesday and have three full days to visit the area and watch horses in the morning,” Becker said. “So what I’ve had to do this week is do all my preparation work from home.
“I’m grateful we live in the day in age of the internet, because I’ve been able to watch recent replays of past races and even archived video footage of their most recent workouts. It’s been very helpful just to get an idea of how they’re coming up to the race.”
With the alternative broadcast style, Becker knows it’s as important as ever to have an abundance of notes in case he gets into a situation where he has to vamp and fill time as well as preparing for every and any situation.
“The most difficult part for me is when you’re physically there, you can watch a trainer and you know if he has time to talk or not,” Becker said. “The thing I hate about it is when you pick up the phone to call somebody, you don’t know if you’re interrupting them or catching them at a moment when they don’t have that kind of time.
“You have to be prepared as a broadcaster for the unexpected. One of the worst feelings in the world is realizing you have to fill an extra two or three minutes. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can be an eternity. You want to give yourself as many options as possible.”
The Belmont Stakes will start at approximately 4:42 p.m. Saturday.