It’s a safe bet that when ESPN’s at a major race, horse racing producer Kris Kugler is in the saddle, spurring the network’s award-winning coverage with unbridled enthusiasm.
Since getting into the Sports Emmy Award winner’s circle for her first horse-racing assignment — the 1997 Kentucky Derby for Outside the Lines when she and Steve Cyphers spent a week embedded with Crypto Star — Kugler has jockeyed ESPN’s coverage at the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Triple Crown races, as well as The Breeders Cup, and races at Saratoga, Woodbine, Arlington, Del Mar and Gulfstream.
This weekend it’s Elmont, L.I. for the Belmont Stakes and a chance at thoroughbred history.
“Without the chance for the Triple Crown, there’d be less excitement, but in all honesty I’d have probably driven down and attended as a fan if we weren’t covering,” Kugler said. “When there is a Triple Crown on the line, I know the three weeks between races will be very busy for me, and I love it.”
She’s even busier when she gets to the track, Triple Crown or not.
“The tricky part, once you know what you want to cover, is trying to figure out how to get the video and sound you need,” she said. “It’s not like the NBA, where a team will be at shoot-around at a certain time – the horses only go around the track once in the morning, so if you miss them, you have to come back the next morning and try again.
“And Belmont has two tracks, and training is open for five hours, so I need to know who’s going where and when so we can be in the right position to get video,” Kugler said, explaining it’s often a game of cat and mouse to capture the right horse. “Some trainers will change times on you, some will send the horses out before the sun rises so you can’t see them, and some send out every horse in their barn that looks like the one you want – at the same time – to try and confuse you.”
Kugler has been at the right place at the right time to have made some friends over the years – both two-legged and four-legged.
“Zenyatta was such a fun horse to shoot and cover — she was always dancing and her races were exciting, and when she won the Breeders Cup Classic against the boys, I was in the winner’s circle and everyone was jumping up and down and hugging complete strangers,” Kugler said. “And working with Hall-of-Fame jockey [and former ESPN analyst] Jerry Bailey was such a joy. Before the 2008 Belmont, I broke my ankle and missed the race, but he called and wished me well before surgery. I hung up the phone and thought how surreal it was. I couldn’t wait to tell my family.”
As she approaches the starting gate for tomorrow’s SportsCenter coverage, Kugler said, “The track will be buzzing, the crowd will be loud, the connections to Chrome will be stressed, and there will be more media and cameras to contend with. After the race, regardless of the outcome, it’ll be real busy, but I’m hoping that after working so many Triple Crown failures, that we’ll be busy covering history.”