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Volume 21 No. 1
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After success in prime time, NBC fine-tunes

When NBC returned as the host network for the 2012 Breeders’ Cup after a six-year absence, the network was ready to make some changes and take some chances.

Most significant was the first airing of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in prime time. The hourlong telecast followed 8½ hours of coverage over two days of the 14 other Breeders’ Cup races on NBC Sports Network. The prime-time results were positive, with the Classic portion of the NBC broadcast receiving a 2.0 rating and drawing 3.1 million viewers. On ESPN in 2011, the rating was 1.0 (1.6 million viewers).

NBC and NBC Sports Network will be back again this weekend to air the Breeders’ Cup races on Friday and Saturday from Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. NBC Sports Network will broadcast five races from 4 to 8 p.m. ET on Friday and seven races on Saturday from 3:30 to 8 p.m. NBC will take over for the final hour Saturday from 8 to 9 p.m. for the airing of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. NBC Sports Network will also air the first race of the day Saturday at 3:05 p.m. during the Notre Dame football pregame show. The total number of races was reduced to 14 after the Juvenile Sprint was dropped for 2013.

Tom Hammond (left) and Randy Moss (right) return from NBC’s Breeders’ Cup coverage last year, but jockey Gary Stevens will be back in the saddle.
“The first prime-time event last year went really well, but we’re always looking for ways to fine-tune the broadcast,” said Rob Hyland, NBC’s producer for horse racing coverage, which also includes all three Triple Crown races in the spring. “I always watch the show afterward to see where we can get better.”

NBC regained the rights to the Breeders’ Cup in 2012 after ESPN held them from 2006 to ’11. Prior to ESPN’s getting the telecast, NBC had aired every Breeders’ Cup since the event’s inception in 1984.

Laffit Pincay III (left) is part of NBC’s coverage team. NBC Sports Network will carry 13 races, and NBC will again show the Breeders’ Cup Classic in prime time.

The 2013 edition marks the event’s 30th running. That will be a major focus for NBC, which will show highlights of memorable moments.

In another change for NBC, it will be using its own race caller, Larry Collmus, on all Breeders’ Cup races. Last year, Coll-mus called the biggest race each day — the Ladies Classic on Friday and the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday. Trevor Denman, the regular race caller at Santa Anita Park and the caller for ESPN from 2006 to ’11, called the other races. Collmus is the regular race caller at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and Gulfstream Park in Florida.

“Trevor did a great job, but Larry is our caller on the Triple Crown races, so we felt we wanted him to be our guy for all the Breeders’ Cup races this year,” Hyland said.

Another person excited about NBC’s return to the Breeders’ Cup is broadcaster Tom Hammond. Hammond was a part of every Breeders’ Cup telecast for NBC from 1984 to 2005, with the exception of 2002, when he was recovering from surgery. In fact, Hammond’s first assignment for NBC was the 1984 Breeders’ Cup as a freelancer. He was hired full time soon after and has been with the network for 30 years, broadcasting horse racing, college and NFL football, and the Olympics.

“I was obviously elated when we got the broadcast back,” Hammond said. “It was disappointing to lose the event in 2005, but I was hopeful we’d get it back someday. But once we got it back, then we had to figure out how we’re going to broadcast this. The event had changed so much in six years, with the expansion to two days and more racing. It was going to be a challenge.”

The Breeders’ Cup expanded to two days in 2007.

Hammond has been around horse racing his entire life and career. He was born in Lexington, Ky., and still makes his home there. He had done work in the racing field during his early broadcasting years in Kentucky before getting the NBC assignment in 1984.

“The big concern NBC had in the first year was how we were going to fill the time between races,” Hammond said. “A racing broadcast this long had never been done before and they were worried about the time between races. As it turned out, we didn’t have enough time. You would just finish the race, interview the winners, and you were on to the next race. It didn’t leave much time for analysis and replays.

“Today, we have a little more time between races, so that helps.”

Hammond will be joined on the broadcasts by co-host Laffit Pincay III, racing expert Randy Moss, and retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, among others. NBC also used Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens in 2012 as an analyst, but Stevens recently returned to riding and has several top mounts for the two days, so he’ll be unavailable.

“We’ll miss Gary, but it’s great to have another hall-of-famer in Jerry Bailey on the broadcast,” Hammond said. “We’ll have plenty of great features to air. I’ve found, in my experience, other than the Olympics, I think horse racing has the best stories. There are so many areas to explore, with the owners, trainers and jockeys.”

The racing broadcast is quite different than the other sports Hyland has produced and Hammond has worked on. With so many races at different distances, the broadcast team has to alter course every 40 minutes or so with each race.

“There’s so many variables with horses,” Hyland said. “You need to be ready to react at any time. They are obviously fragile animals and anything can happen. This can turn into a news event very quickly.”

Digital connection

NBC Sports Live Extra — the NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices and tablets — will stream Breeders’ Cup coverage from NBC and NBC Sports Network.

For desktops, NBC Sports Live Extra can be accessed at The NBC Sports Live Extra app for mobile devices and tablets is available at the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and on select Android handset and tablet devices within Google Play. NBC Sports Live Extra will offer full replays of all streamed races.

With the expansion of the Breeders’ Cup in recent years, the broadcasts have also gotten longer. That allows more time for stories and features that might have been rushed in prior years. When the Breeders’ Cup first started on NBC in 1984, the races were packed into tighter windows, usually 7 or 8 races over 4 or 4½ hours.

“The expansion of days and time allows us to tell a nice story or do a cool preview story,” Hyland said. “It still goes by pretty quickly. The flow is very fast.”

Hyland was excited last year to debut a gyro-stabilized camera during the broadcast. This camera sits in an SUV and rides on the inside of the dirt track at Santa Anita, giving fans a chance to see the race from ground level as if they are on the inside rail.

Hyland started at NBC in 1997, and his first racing broadcast was 2001, when NBC aired its first Kentucky Derby. He’s been the main producer for NBC’s horse racing coverage since 2006.

With most of the coverage on NBC Sports Network, Hyland adjusts the style of the telecast once the show shifts to NBC for the final hour.

“The prime-time show is not really aimed at the hard-core fan,” Hyland said. “We have those fans there for the Classic. What we’re trying to do in that hour is get people in that might not normally watch a horse race to stop in. Then, we want to keep them there. So we do some stories and provide information to help the novice fan.”

Having worked on the broadcast since the start makes the event extra special for Hammond. The Breeders’ Cup was the idea of John Gaines, a longtime racing executive and businessman. Gaines died in 2005.

“I still remember, at the end of the first broadcast in 1984, John came up to me and gave me a big bear hug,” Hammond said. “I think we both realized racing had something special in this event.”