It is a seamless production. Each race day at Keeneland, high-definition televisions and a massive infield tote board bring fans closer to the action while not intruding, somehow, on the scenic beauty of a track that prides itself on its grounds and its role in showcasing Thoroughbred horse racing.
Many of the people helping deliver those images sit in a dimly lit control room on the fifth level of the grandstand.
They are seated, but they are not still.
“It really starts from the time the fan walks in. And what’s on those TVs? And what’s on the tote board?” said G.D. Hieronymus, Keeneland’s Director of Broadcast Services. “The flags are up, people are in position and (it’s about) being ready to go.”
Keeneland’s video team has 10 full-time staffers. During meets, they are joined by as many as 14 freelancers. In addition to manned camera positions around the track, there are four remote cameras and two cameramen on the grounds. Up in the control room and editing booth, 11 people take it all in and help put together a production that has been honored as the industry’s best seven times.
Each race day, they produce eight to 12 live 30-minute shows. It’s no small task, but Keeneland’s crew has it down.
“I’ve got an amazing staff,” Hieronymus said. “You hire good people, and you let them do their job. And they’ll make you look good. And, more importantly, they’ll make this place look good.”
The control room
Just outside Hieronymus’ office off the pressroom, a narrow metal staircase takes you to the first station, where Dan Cline and Isaac Hickman sit behind a bank of monitors preparing replays. After the first race Wednesday, an objection was lodged. Hickman spooled together a replay package for the stewards.
At the second station, Steve Eilerman watches over the signal from each of the track’s more than a dozen cameras, constantly fine-tuning the light and color balance of each depending on conditions of the moment. Alongside, Krista Seymour controls Keeneland’s four remote cameras. Ahead of the second race, she turned the winner’s circle camera on TVG personality Caleb Keller as he conducted an interview.
Another station up, Randy Thayer and Brandon Jett handle the graphics, while Thomas Cooper runs the soundboard for the microphones, including the mic on Steve Buttleman’s bugle.
Philip Richardson, Keeneland’s producer and technical director, sits behind a large control board and two giant monitors, which deliver every camera feed and other information. Richardson is running the show, cuing cameras and graphics for Keeneland’s simulcast signal.
At his right, associate director Oli Powell coordinates with Keeneland’s broadcast partners, TVG, and, on Blue Grass Stakes day, NBC Sports. One of those networks might tell Powell that their on-air personalities plan to talk about a certain horse. Powell will ask Richardson to train a camera on that horse for the broadcast.
Just outside the control room, facing the track, production coordinator Lauren Warren, runs the tote board.
“She also is kind of air traffic controller during the meet,” Hieronymus said. “She has complete control of that when the races are going on and also is on headsets. Any late scratches, changes come in — they immediately go up to her.”
It’s Warren who puts together the production schedule for each day, outlining the races, events, special presentations and trophies. On days such as Blue Grass Stakes day, it’s several pages.
Hieronymus helps keep everything running, descending the stairs from his office or the control room to the paddock a number of times.
He’s in the paddock when the show begins. Track announcer Kurt Becker opens with the latest information about the first race. Becker cues Keeneland co-host and racing analyst Mike Battaglia in the paddock for his segment. Then Battaglia cues colleague Katie Gensler in the saddling area.
“(Hieronymous is) behind the scenes and kind of lets us do our thing,” said Gensler, a racing analyst who’s in her fifth year at Keeneland. “And that’s what I love about working at Keeneland, because they trust me to do the right thing.”
Whenever there is a stakes race, Hieronymus helps make sure the photos, presentations and interviews move along. He has a radio on his belt to communicate with the stewards or the control room about changes he feels need to be made.
“If you don’t have somebody down on the ground things will happen, but we need to stay on a timeline,” he said. “We need to keep things rolling.”
Beyond the broadcast
In the editing room, Jeremy Krintz edits each race and other moments for Keeneland’s social media accounts. Within minutes of each race’s finish, the replay will be available on Keeneland’s app and be sent out on Twitter.
He also produces the half-hour recap show “Today at Keeneland,” hosted by Battaglia, which airs on CWKYT and TVG. Krintz has been with Keeneland since 2006.
“Things are faster now. Social media wasn’t that big then,” Krintz said. “Now, I’m doing the show plus all the social media stuff. It’s good in a way, but it keeps me busy.”
Battaglia’s cameraman, Daniel Durick, follows Battaglia from the paddock to the winner’s circle on race days, but his main job is to help produce videos for the production crew’s year-round enterprise.
“These two months are kind of a little bit more of a break for myself,” Durick said of his meet duties. “We still have projects going on, but I like it. I like being outside. It’s just nice to get out and see some of the people you only see a couple of times out of the year.”
In addition to doing its own in-house commercials and shows, Keeneland produces videos for customers throughout the industry. Next is a presentation for the Kentucky Derby trainers’ dinner. It involves gathering clips from all the prep races to showcase each horse.
Hieronymus first came to Keeneland in 1979 as a cameraman for WLEX. Tom Hammond was in front of the camera then as Spectacular Bid won the Blue Grass Stakes. For 19 years, Hieronymus worked for Hammond Productions before Keeneland hired him in 2000 to head up its own enterprise.
For Hieronymus, everything they do is an extension of making people want to come to Keeneland.
“We’re not only showing the jockeys, trainers, owners, the best horses in the land, but you also want to show the beauty of the place,” he said.
For Battaglia, probably the most visible face of the Keeneland team’s efforts, that is what it is all about as well.
“You want to give people information. You want the information to be correct, but you also want them to have a good time. You want the people to come out here. You want them to leave wanting to come back,” Battaglia said. “I think that’s what happens here at Keeneland. I think it’s unlike any other racetrack in the country that I’ve ever been to.”