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A fitting name for this horse

NBC team tosses hat in racing ring

Conflictofinterest. That's not really a word, but even split into three, it's not something you want attached to your name on the business or political pages of your morning newspaper.

But this is a horse racing story. And Conflictofinterest is the name of a 2-year-old filly in Ocala, Fla., just beginning the workouts her owners hope will bring her to the races later this summer, perhaps at Saratoga or Aqueduct.

If all goes well -- meaning, if they catch the proverbial lightning in a bottle -- this time next spring Conflictofinterest could be running in the Kentucky Oaks, the first race in the Triple Crown for 3-year-old fillies.

Not likely, but . . . in racing, all things can happen. You need look no further than the story of last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Funny Cide.

Conflictofinterest is owned by a syndicate, a group of co-workers whose wildest dream has them following her exploits just as the Sackatoga Stable group that owned Funny Cide did last year.

The twist in all of this is that Conflictofinterest's owners happen to be NBC's horse racing team, the folks who will be bringing us coverage of tomorrow's 130th running of the Kentucky Derby (Channel 7, 5 p.m., in HD).

Does that make the filly's name sound more appropriate?

Among the shareholder/owners are handicappers Bob Neumeier and Mike Battaglia, reporter Donna Barton Brothers, race caller Tom Durkin, host Tom Hammond, analyst Charlsie Cantey, co-host Bob Costas, and producer David Michaels.

They're all racetrack folks (except for Costas) and familiar with the thoroughbred industry. They also spend a lot of time together at the Triple Crown races and Breeders' Cup.

Many times the "We ought to buy a horse" topic came up over dinner, but it took the Sackatoga Stable's success last year to galvanize the group.

Plans were made. Shares sold at $5,000 a pop, with the goal of raising $100,000, enough to buy a yearling for $40,000-$60,000 and pay the bills for a while. Of course, the idea was to buy a colt and take the long shot it might make it to the Kentucky Derby one day.

Now that would have created somewhat of a conflict of interest as well as one great prerace story.

But, like most racetrack stories, it didn't work out that way . . .

Hammond, the genial host of the show, has owned horses "off and on" for 20 years. With a partner, he'd bought a filly yearling by Mt. Livermore at the Keeneland Sales. However, said partner backed out.

The NBC group stepped up.

"I thought it would be a good horse for us," said Hammond. "If she can't run fast, she'll still be worth something [as a broodmare]. If we had to sell her, we'd get some of our money back. It was a little insurance."

Frankie Brothers, husband of Donna, had trained the filly's dam, Sailing Minstrel, and recommended the filly. Over dinner at the Breeders' Cup, someone suggested the name Conflictofinterest, which was an instant hit.

"I went online to see if the name was taken," said Hammond. "It wasn't."

Another omen that it was the perfect name: "It can have a maximum of 18 characters -- letters, numbers, and spaces," said Hammond. "Count 'em. Conflictofinterest uses all 18."

The group is using its network connection. "We're calling ourselves the Peacock Stable," said Neumeier. "And we'll find a way to use the NBC peacock logo." Cantey was in Florida this winter for the Florida Derby and inspected the filly, who is being schooled by the highly respected Tony Everard, who sold Funny Cide to Sackatoga Stable. "She's a nice, sturdy, solid filly," Cantey said. "Now let's hope she can run."

Cantey knows the highs and lows of the business. "I've been in the racing business for 35 years, and winning a race, no matter where, is a blast," she said. "It's also good for morale."

How about the name?

"The Conflictofinterest name was appropriate with Tom selling his own horse to the group," she said.

But the act also brought good karma. "We did a good deed by helping take the filly off his hands," she said. "I believe in karma. Good things will come back to us."

If that's the case, this Conflictofinterest could turn out to be a very good thing.

On top of its game

Has any local media outlet ever been on a roll like the one WEEI (850 AM) is enjoying? Besides acquiring 103.7 FM to beam its radio signal across Rhode Island, southern Massachusetts, and a large portion of Connecticut, the station had unprecedented success in the winter ratings book that came out this week, being ranked No. 1 in Boston among all adults ages 25-54 (not just its target male audience in that age group). WEEI had ranked third among all adults 25-54 in last summer's ratings book, moved up to second in the fall, and took No. 1 in the winter with a 6.4 share. WMJX (106.7 FM) is No. 2, with a 6.3 share. In the morning, WEEI's "Dennis & Callahan" was No. 2 among men, trailing only Howard Stern on WBCN (104.1 FM). The midday "Dale & Neumy" nearly doubled its overall share with a 6.8 and was a runaway No. 1 among men 25-54 with a 12.1 share. Glenn Ordway's "The Big Show" in afternoon drive posted a 13 share among men 25-54 and was tops among all adults for the second straight quarter with a 7.9 share. If it seemed that the station's hosts were over the top with their on-air gloating this week, part of it represents five-figure ratings bonuses they stand to collect. WEEI doesn't seem to be taking any of the ratings for granted, extending "The Big Show" to run directly into Red Sox pregame on Tuesday and continuing to run the "Who needs satellite radio?" ads. What's next in the expansion plans? WEEI so far has passed on what seems an open offer from FSN to simulcast parts of the station's daily programming. But expanding the radio network to elsewhere in New England is a given. Program director Jason Wolfe says many options are under consideration. "The new station [in Providence] is an incredible way to spread the signal and our brand," he said. "Stay tuned for more news." . . . Kudos to the 'EEI caller/e-mailer who came up with the "That's All, Foulke's" slogan for Sox reliever Keith Foulke . . . ESPN will be all over the pre-Kentucky Derby scene with live coverage from noon-5 p.m. tomorrow, not to mention today's Kentucky Oaks (5 p.m.). It would be interesting if ESPN winds up covering the NBC group's horse a year from today . . . Former Olympian/analyst Dwight Stones apparently wanted no part of the BALCO story during last week's NBC coverage of the Penn Relays. Neumeier had no such compunctions, bracing sprinter Marion Jones with the proper questions . . . Frank Lyons, an analyst for TVG's "The Works" program, owns Derby entrant Castledale . . . Melissa Stark has joined the NBC horse racing crew as a reporter/interviewer . . . Suffolk Downs opens for racing tomorrow, and "Suffolk Downs Tonight" returns for its second season on Channel 68 at 11:30 p.m. each day there is live racing. Track announcer Larry Collmus and analyst Pat Lamberty will be cohosts with Christian Teja, Rolly Hoyt, and T.D. Thornton contributing.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com 

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