NBC's Derby Coverage Poised for Stretch Run

The ramp-up to the Run for the Roses will be a little longer this year. NBC's coverage of the most famous two minutes in horse racing will clock in at a whopping 2 1/2 hours.

Beginning at 4 p.m. on Saturday, the network will air "Access at the Kentucky Derby," which producer Sam Flood describes as "a vehicle to take you places you can't normally go on Derby day, from the jocks' room to the barns."

Flood, producing his third consecutive Derby program, said he plans features on pre-Derby parties and the Churchill Downs infield crowd, as well as horses, trainers and owners.

A red carpet segment, hosted by Billy Bush of "Access Hollywood," will focus on the famous faces at the race.

"You'll see a lot of celebrities, and a lot of hats," Flood said, referring to the traditionally outlandish headgear favored by many female Derby-goers.

At 5 p.m., coverage shifts into serious racing mode. Tom Hammond, Bob Costas and former jockey Gary Stevens, a three-time Derby winner, will set the trackside tone. Rounding out the broadcast team are race-caller Tom Durkin, analysts Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumier, and reporters Kenny Rice and Donna Barton Brothers.

Stevens, who rode Derby winners in 1988, 1995 and 1997, said he begins tracking potential Derby runners in the fall, and described his preparation for the broadcast as similar to his pre-race routine as a jockey. But now, "instead of riding just one race, I put myself in the position of riding 20 different horses," he said.

"I will tear the race apart on paper, from the finish to the start, and try to create different scenarios," Stevens said. "Whether a horse shows speed or doesn't, what the jockey's style is " that is what I try to bring to the viewers."

Stevens said he strives for a balance in covering the race.

"The people who know horse racing don't want to hear me chattin' away," he said. "I try to put things in layman's terms and not get too technical, but I don't want to talk down to the ones who understand the sport.

"The beauty of the Derby is that it is the one day our sport is most viewed," he said. "And it is an event, not just a horse race."

"Kentucky Derby" Saturday 4 p.m., NBC


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