Kentucky Derby evolves from 90 minutes to five hours for NBC

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When Rob Hyland worked his first Kentucky Derby for NBC in 2001, it was a 90-minute show with a handful reporters and only one race – the Derby – was aired.

Hyland, the coordinating producer of NBC’s horse racing coverage, now is at the helm of 15 hours of coverage over three days. The broadcast Saturday from Churchill Downs will be five hours, features five races, include three sets and 16 announcers.

“It’s grown quite a bit. Fingers crossed it all goes well,” Hyland said.

The biggest technical advances this year include a super slow-motion camera on the pole of the finish line on the main track. It can provide a reverse angle for the Derby finish as well as being able to pan around and show the finish at the wire for all the races on the turf course.

There’s also a 360-degree “glam cam” on the red carpet that will allow fans and celebrities to have their Derby outfits captured. It is the type of camera seen during the Golden Globe and Academy Awards shows, but with more coverage devoted to Derby celebrities and fashion it was something new to add to the day.

While the focus is on the 20-horse field, NBC is devoting more coverage to parties at the track and across the nation. The day will start with Mike Tirico, Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey positioned at a set in the paddock, which is the largest area of fan traffic during the day, before they move to their usual set outside turn one closer to the race.

There will also be coverage of parties in Denver, Las Vegas, New York and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hyland, who works on NBC’s “Football Night in America,” said he got the idea about a paddock set during the AFC playoffs when the pregame show started among the fans outside Arrowhead Stadium before moving inside.

“With that sea of people in the background, and I think it will change the overall energy for the first half of the show,” Hyland said.

MORE HANDICAPPING KNOWLEDGE

Handicapper Ed Olczyk, who is also an NBC hockey analyst, will get more time to explain his selections.

“We really want to give Eddie more time throughout the entire day to educate, entertain and inform the casual viewer on what goes into his decision making and give some more time to the betting in our show to have a few back-and-forths between Mike, Jerry and Randy,” Hyland said.

Olczyk, who hit the trifecta for last year’s Derby, will also be a part of “NBC Sports Bet: Derby Special,” which will be on NBCSports.com on Saturday at 5 p.m. The 30-minute show will address getting the most value on a bet to the impact of the weather and track bias.

“I might change my pick probably 10 different times, but we’re going to try to do what we did last year,” Olczyk said. “Depending on what happens with the weather on Saturday, you could make a case for six, seven, eight horses to win. As a handicapper, I have to have a game plan, and that’s what makes our team and our crew so great is that maybe the track is playing a certain way. I might have to have two sets of picks depending on if it’s a fast or off track.”

WHO’S NEW?

Premiere League host Rebecca Lowe will co-host Saturday’s festivities and has an interview with two-time Triple Crown trainer Bob Baffert.

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller will be a lifestyle correspondent as he documents the fashion scene. Miller, who has attended previous derbys, has called it a great combination of culture, fashion and sport.

THE MONTH OF HORSEPOWER

The Kentucky Derby kicks off a busy month for NBC. The network also has the Preakness, Stanley Cup playoffs and will have the Indianapolis 500 for the first time.

“Think of two sporting events, one with 175,000 folks here at the Derby, and then one at the end of the month two hours away up I-65 in Indianapolis, where there will be about 300,000 people, two of, if not the two, biggest attended American sports events, and they bracket our month at NBC,” Tirico said.

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.