Hanson: Rediscovering historic Triple Crown TV coverage

August 24th, 2021

For fans of Thoroughbred racing and its history, video-sharing sites like YouTube have long proved a godsend. With a click of a mouse, we can not only re-live memories of races that affected us personally, but also watch some of the great moments that preceded our time or interest in the sport.

Unfortunately, what can be found on that site, in particular, is hardly exhaustive. Truthfully, it barely scratches the surface of what archival footage is still out there waiting to be rediscovered and made publicly accessible. As addressed in this space several years ago, racing's presence during the first couple of decades of commercial television was more widespread than most people today think.

All of this came to mind in recent days following an extraordinary find on the website Archive.org.

In May 2020, when the world's attention was largely focused on the pandemic, the University of Baltimore published on the site five videos (each approximately an hour in duration) of footage originally broadcast on television station WMAR in Baltimore.

Interspersed on each video with news clips (involving such subjects as the Kennedys, Vietnam, J. Edgar Hoover, and Eleanor Roosevelt) was a veritable goldmine of crucial racing history. The videos contained race footage of virtually every Triple Crown event from 1960 through 1972 as originally broadcast on CBS, which WMAR was an affiliate of at the time.

Any footage most people have seen of the American classics run before 1970 has come largely from archaic movie house newsreels, with condensed footage and commentary. However, the footage available on the aforementioned videos are more meaningful historical documents, showing not only these great races in their entirety but what racing coverage actually looked like in a time largely forgotten.

Here are Vance Hanson's highlights of each video with applicable timestamps:

Reel 1 -- Hanson's highlights: 1961 Belmont, 1963 Preakness, 1963 Belmont

The 1960 Preakness (25:51), won convincingly by Bally Ache, is the earliest footage available on these videos. Former newsman and Delaware Park executive Bryan Field analyzes the entire race via replay, but nearly all other races shown on these videos were the actual races and calls as seen live on CBS. It should also be said that nearly all of the race footage is on videotape, rather than film.

Also on this video are the 1961 Kentucky Derby (0:24) and Preakness (19:08), won by Carry Back, and Sherluck's 65-1 upset of the Belmont Stakes (29:18). Briefly spotted walking behind Sherluck toward the winner's circle is noted Blood-Horse editor and turf historian Kent Hollingsworth, trademark pipe in mouth.

Later on are the 1963 Triple Crown races. Interestingly, much of the Preakness (51:55) and all of the Belmont (59:26) are shot from cameras located in the infield. Viewers get to see the Pimlico crowd and brief glimpses of the track's ill-fated clubhouse (which would go up in flames three years later) as the field passes the stands the first time. The 1963 Belmont was the first of five consecutive run at Aqueduct while Belmont Park was being reconstructed, and watching Chateaugay beat Candy Spots with the fans "behind" him is a rather interesting viewpoint.

Reel 2 -- Hanson's highlight: 1962 Belmont

The video opens with an interview by host Chris Schenkel of owner-breeder George Pope and Hall of Fame trainer Horatio Luro (0:16) following the record-setting victory by Decidedly in the 1962 Kentucky Derby (2:15). Winning jockey Bill Hartack, who famously had a prickly attitude with the press, was in more appealing form in articulately analyzing his trip for Eddie Arcaro.

The more widely-seen 1962 Preakness (6:47) is here, too, as is a blow-by-blow, post-race account of the 1962 Belmont Stakes (12:33) from winning jockey Bill Shoemaker, who discusses his ride on Jaipur with Schenkel and Arcaro.

Reel 3 -- Hanson's highlight: 1965 Belmont

The 1964 and 1965 Triple Crown races are all on this video. Other highlights include post-race interviews with Bill Hartack about his ride aboard Northern Dancer in the 1964 Kentucky Derby (5:49) and with Manny Ycaza (12:28), who thwarted Northern Dancer's Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes with Quadrangle.

The 1965 Triple Crown races had three different winners, but all three involved exciting photo finishes. The Belmont (42:02), in particular, was a thrilling stretch battle involving eventual winner Hail to All, Tom Rolfe, Dapper Dan, and First Family, the latter Secretariat's older half-brother.

Reel 4 -- Hanson's highlights: 1967 Preakness, 1969 Belmont

The 1966 Triple Crown footage is the last seen here in black and white, though the races were actually broadcast in color. The Kentucky Derby is not here, but Kauai King's Preakness (0:19) is, and so is the Belmont Stakes (3:10) he lost to Amberoid at Aqueduct.

Color video becomes the norm in 1967, but poor visibility at that year's Kentucky Derby (8:01) makes it hard to clearly see Damascus' upset loss to Proud Clarion. However, Damascus was visually impressive winning the Preakness (12:25), while his Belmont (16:21) win at Aqueduct was more workmanlike.

Very good footage of the 1968 Triple Crown exists here. Dancer's Image's would be disqualified from his victory in the Kentucky Derby (20:44) over Forward Pass, whose domination of the Preakness (25:46) was worth the many years of waiting to see footage of. The widely-seen Belmont Stakes (34:15), won by Stage Door Johnny on its return to "Big Sandy," is also here.

The 1968 Triple Crown was the last called for television by the inconsistent Jack Drees (and there might have been other announcers on these videos). The more capable and self-effacing Chic Anderson began his 10-year stint as the voice of the Triple Crown in 1969, and it's a great one involving the rivalry between Majestic Prince and Arts and Letters.

Besides seeing that exciting series on full color video, the thing that stands out is the obvious joy a large share of the Belmont crowd have in Arts and Letters' thwarting of Majestic Prince's Triple Crown bid (47:37). It must have been a partially an anti-California sentiment, and arguably a precursor to the events of 20 years later when hometown hero Easy Goer beat Sunday Silence even more badly.

Reel 5 -- Hanson's highlight: 1970 Preakness

Footage of the Triple Crown races from 1970-72 are more widely available on YouTube, with the exception of the Preakness renewals of 1970 and 1972.

The 1970 Preakness (6:14), not seen by this viewer until now, produced a terrific finish where the result was very much uncertain until the final strides. Eventual champion three-year-old Personality, out in the middle of the track, edges by a head the rail-skimming My Dad George, who had the dubious distinction of being the beaten favorite in all three Triple Crown races.

The 1972 Preakness (44:50) saw the unheralded Bee Bee Bee, owned by Will Farish, trounce champions Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint with a front-running score in the slop.