By Jim Williams
WASHINGTON — NBC Sports is in full horse racing mode as the first weekend of May leads the hardcore and the casual fan to Churchill Downs for the annual first leg of the Triple Crown series the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby. The network will be providing a record 7 and a half hours of coverage on NBC and streaming on Peacock.
As you might expect NBC is pulling out all the stops knowing that on Derby Day the focus is on the stars that show up, the fashions worn and the different foods being served. It is all that color along with the backstories of the horses that draws an audience to watch the races.
Part of the extensive coverage comes from NBC News Steve Kornacki, who most viewers know from him standing in front of his big electronic board where he breaks down presidential and numerous political election races. However, he returns to NBC Sports’ Derby coverage with his insight and analysis for the third year of course with his big board traveling with him, so he can break down the Derby.
It may surprise some that Kornacki has a passion for racing at an early age as he and his uncle would speak most Saturday mornings about what races excited them as they visited the New England tracks. Wednesday, we spoke about how special attending and now working the Derby was to him considering his racing roots.
“Even before I was doing Derby and horse racing coverage for NBC, I would spend – this is how I would spend my weekends, watching the races and me and my uncle having a phone call in the morning deciding which track we were going to play and kind of figuring out our strategy for the day. It’s something I’ve always just enjoyed the sport tremendously,“Kornacki said.
But while he is a proud member of NBC News, he understands his role with his colleagues in the sports department. It is clearly something he takes seriously.
“It’s tough to put into words. I love it. I feel incredibly lucky, incredibly fortunate. The NBC Sports people have been unbelievably generous and welcoming to me. Their eagerness to include me means a ton to me.” Kornacki closed with these thoughts “Like I said, whether it’s on horse racing or Sunday Night Football, the folks both on air and off I’ve gotten a chance to work with, sometimes I’ll look up and watching these races and watching the recaps, and I’ll realize, ‘geez, I’m getting to be in the same room as Jerry Bailey.’ There’s somebody who I’ve watched this guy ride. I remember so many of his races.”
Last year Derby’s aerial coverage was a critical and technical success. The NBC Air Force included two fixed-wing planes as well as two drones providing some of the most dramatic shots of the race from over 2,500 feet above the track and the flight crews are ready to return to the skies over Churchill Downs.
“We’ve got great pilots up in the air who will be flying that Winged Vision plane, and we’ll track horses along the way. We’ll turn it around as fast as we can get it to you. We also have drone coverage,” said NBC Derby producer Lindsay Schanzer. Per restrictions, they don’t fly directly over the horses. It’s not that same perspective. The aerial perspective from the shots of last year’s winner Rich Strike viral clip was the aerial camera as opposed to drone coverage.”
NBC Sports’ coverage of the Kentucky Derby features host Mike Tirico, anchoring Derby coverage for the seventh time; analysts Jerry Bailey, the Hall of Fame jockey and two-time Kentucky Derby winner, and Randy Moss, who is covering the Derby for the 43rd time; handicappers Eddie Olczyk and Matt Bernier; host Ahmed Fareed; reporters Britney Eurton, Donna Brothers, Kenny Rice, and Nick Luck; and race caller Larry Collmus. Rebecca Lowe also returns to NBC Sports’ coverage and will examine the traditions and pageantry surrounding the “Run for the Roses.”
NBC Sports presents 7.5 hours of the 149th Kentucky Derby on NBC and Peacock this Saturday, May 6, beginning at noon ET live from iconic Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., marking the most hours ever on the broadcast for the event. Live coverage from Churchill Downs begins with five hours of Kentucky Oaks day racing this Friday, May 5, beginning at 1 p.m. ET on the USA Network and Peacock. Over the two days, NBC Sports will present 15 live races from Churchill Downs.
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