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All Quiet on the Derby Front

If horse racing needed another sign of the tenuous nature of the sport, they get it big time during this year's run-up to Kentucky Derby 135.

Derby Week is normally the time when even the big guns at ESPN actually pay attention to horse racing. But whether it's the economy, the state of the sport, or a combination of many factors, this year's Derby Week is much quieter than in past years.

Back in March, Churchill Downs announced that the Kentucky Oaks would not be televised on ESPN for the first time in many years. (Blood-Horse: ESPN Drops Live Kentucky Oaks Coverage) Along with no Oaks coverage is the elimination of a live broadcast of the post position draw for the Derby (another staple of the last few years). And finally, one of my favorite Derby day programs, Breakfast at Churchill Downs, has also seen its last days.

Now, all of this shouldn't come as a surprise to any horse racing enthusiast. I don't think it's a stretch to assume that ESPN probably receives very low ratings for their all-day Oaks coverage. And given the state of the economy, it's very likely they would have struggled to find any advertisers that would pay high enough rates to make the broadcast a success. But it's still got to be an awfully tough pill for the industry to swallow. You could make a very strong case that Oaks Day is the third most popular day in horse racing in America, behind the Derby and the Breeders' Cup. And now that event is limited to HRTV and Bravo! (which will be showing the Oaks race itself).

If it wasn't bad enough that tracks around the country have seen a reduction in handle due to tough economic times, the failure of the sport to have one of its signature events broadcast on ESPN is a devastating blow.

At least horse players can bet the Oaks, the Derby, and the undercards on-line this year, unlike last year's fiasco.