2017 Kentucky Derby: Mike Tirico succeeds Tom Hammond

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STAMFORD, Conn. – Mike Tirico, who was recently named NBC’s primetime Olympics host, will be taking the Triple Crown hosting reins from Tom Hammond, an award-winning member of NBC Sports’ horse racing team for more than three decades.

Tune in to watch live coverage of the 2017 Kentucky Derby at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 6, on NBC.

“NBC Sports is the home to the world’s premier horse racing, due in no small part to Tom’s passion, knowledge and relationships in the sport,” said Mark Lazarus, Chairman NBC Broadcasting and Sports. “We are pleased that Tom is going to remain part of the NBC family and that we have someone of Mike’s caliber to succeed him on horse racing.”

Next week on NBCSN, Hammond will host the special 30-minute My Kentucky Home, in which he takes a look at how Kentucky came to be the home of thoroughbred racing. Hammond, who has covered a dozen Olympics, will return to NBC Olympics’ coverage at the 2018 PyeongChang Games next February.

Tirico, making his first-ever trip to a Triple Crown event, joins NBC Sports Group’s Triple Crown coverage beginning with the 2017 Kentucky Derby on May 6 on NBC, and will work the Preakness Stakes on May 20, and the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

“Tom’s professionalism, presence and passion for the sport enhanced Triple Crown viewing for so many of us over the years,” said Tirico, who made his TV horse racing debut alongside Hammond last fall on NBC’s coverage of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. “He perfectly set the tone and in the process set the standard for this role.  I’m honored to follow a legend and cherish the chance to work with our great team.”

Hammond’s TV horse racing debut came in 1984, when he was hired on what was intended to be a one-time-only basis as a reporter for NBC’s telecast of the inaugural Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Ever since that Eclipse Award-winning telecast, Hammond has been integral on a wide-range of NBC Sports events, highlighted by horse racing – covering his home-state Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes 16 times apiece, and 11 Belmont Stakes, including American Pharoah’s historic Triple Crown victory in 2015. A member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and honored as a distinguished alumnus of the University of Kentucky, where he earned bachelor’s degree in animal science and studied equine genetics as a graduate student, Hammond has also anchored NBC’s Breeders’ Cup coverage over the past 30+ years.

“I had a great time putting together My Kentucky Home, and I hope viewers will understand why I think this is a special place,” Hammond said. “As I embark on a less demanding schedule at NBC, I can rest assured that the coverage of Thoroughbred racing is in good hands. That sport is very close to my heart, so I am pleased that Mike, a highly accomplished professional, will assume the role as leader of the superb NBC horse racing team. I wish them all the best going forward.”

Hammond’s 30-minute My Kentucky Home special will debut on NBCSN next Wednesday, May 3 at 12:30 a.m. ET following Tuesday night’s St. Louis-Nashville Stanley Cup Playoff game. The special will encore on NBCSN on Wednesday, May 3 at 5 p.m. ET, Thursday, May 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET and on Friday May 5 within NBCSN’s live Kentucky Oaks coverage and following that evening’s Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.