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Time to say goodbye for ABC
By Marc Connolly
ABC Sports Online

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Sunglasses couldn't hide the emotion of ABC producer Curt Gowdy Jr. on the morning of the network's final Triple Crown telecast.

After voicing his heartfelt emotions to each of the various units -- engineering, production and talent -- Gowdy spoke of the everlasting love affair that has existed within his team and with Triple Crown officials for the past three decades.

In one of the classic moments, Charismatic crosses the finish line ahead of Menifee to win the 125th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky in May 1999.

"We've had so many wonderful moments," said Gowdy, the son of the legendary broadcaster. "This team is such a family, and I still am dumbfounded over the unselfishness that has always existed from those both in front and behind the camera. We've never had egos here with this group."

Talk to members of the ABC crew and you'll get much of the same sentiment. It's apparent that the individual relationships formed between these people are truly unique. Though they know their friendships and memories will last a lifetime of Triple Crown races, there's still an air of sadness and sentimentality sweeping through the ABC compound knowing that NBC takes over the broadcasts in 2001.

"It's like saying goodbye to family," said technical director Joe Schiavo, who is working his 54th Triple Crown race. "Everyone is emotional today, but we'll do an excellent job because we're professionals."

"It's been a 23-year ride," said announcer Dave Johnson, who was a track announcer at Belmont Park before ABC had the rights to the telecast. "Human emotions overshadow this Triple Crown because of what it's been like working with this crew. Jim McKay, Al Michaels, Charlsie Cantey, and everyone else, we're all like a great big family. It's been special, that's for sure."

They've been nostalgic all week.

"It hit me the other day when I was sitting there alone editing a feature on (Hall of Fame jockey) Julie Krone," said longtime associate director Toni Slotkin. "It brought back good memories of the work we did in the early '90s, and it gave me a tinge of depression."

Even the most stoic crew members had moist eyes when they met for a final dinner that Gowdy set up in Manhattan on Thursday night

"Jim McKay got up and delivered a very poignant -- I don't want to say speech -- it was more like a string of stories," said Gowdy. "He recanted how he'll miss the people he's worked with the most and how he'll be very sad when the Derby rolls around next spring.

"It was touching when he said that it was special for him to work these events because it gave him the chance to work with people that are sometimes 50 years younger than he is."

Two of his favorites include associate producers Brian Lockhart and Drew Kaliski, who set up a massive escape route complete with an 11-motorcycle escort for McKay after the Preakness so he could catch a flight. It was a getaway that "Steve McQueen would have been proud of," remarked senior vice president of production John Filippelli, and something that McKay knows will keep him smiling for many years to come.

"Working with Jim has been amazing," said Kaliski, working his fourth Triple Crown. "It gave me the opportunity to learn so much and to listen to all his great stories. I'll miss that."

ABC's staff also mentioned the relationships they've formed with horse racing officials around the country, and how they became part of their family over the years.

"Everyone involved has so much passion in this industry," said Lockhart, who admitted to knowing nothing about the sport when he joined the crew three years ago after a successful basketball career at Holy Cross. "Experiencing that three times a year is what I'll miss."

"You get used to seeing certain faces each year and it definitely marks the seasons," said production manager Lynn Cadden. "You always have the next year. And now we don't."

Perhaps what the staff is most proud of is how they're going out.

"We could have folded up the tent and cut back this year, but we are as cutting edge as ever," said Gowdy of the broadcast that will include a short highlight reel of ABC's most special moments through the years.

"We want to make it a dignified telecast and put our best foot forward," said Slotkin, who believes the staff's attachment with the event is particularly strong since they have to build a 1- hour show around a two-minute event. "We'll be as fancy and as slick as ever."

"We owe it to the viewer after 30 years," said Filippelli.

And to themselves.

Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.

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 Secretariat wins the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. (Courtesy: Belmont Park)
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