A horse gets a bath after an early-morning workout at Churchill Downs Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Kentucky Derby evolves from 90 minutes to 5 hours for NBC

May 02, 2019 - 11:35 pm

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.

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