Churchill Downs Inc. is partnering with NBC Sports to televise three, one-hour programs of key prep races on the Triple Crown trail in 2010, it was announced Jan. 11. The three consecutive Saturday telecasts will each feature two graded stakes for 3-year-olds.
CDI spokeswoman Liz Harris confirmed that the company is paying NBC up to $2 million to televise the Derby preps.
On March 27, the USA Network will air the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) from Fair Grounds in New Orleans as well as the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) from Turfway Park in northern Kentucky. The following week, April 3, NBC will televise the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) from California and the Wood Memorial (gr. I) from Aqueduct in New York. On April 10, NBC returns with the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) from Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) from Keeneland in Lexington.
Interestingly, among the listed tracks, only Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs. The Louisville-based home of the Kentucky Derby feels that by promoting these prep races, it can expand viewership for its flagship event, which this year will be run May 1. According to NBC, last year’s Derby was the most-viewed in two decades, with viewership growing 26% over the past two years.
The three telecasts of prep races will also include handicapping segments and lifestyle elements designed to broden the audience and drive viewership to the Kentucky Derby and subsequent Triple Crown races.
"This approach has been effective in bringing new fans to racing, and we hope to see similar success with the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ series," said Churchill Downs Inc. president and CEO Bob Evans. "We promote racing to both men and women by focusing on the fan’s entire experience of racing, not just the race itself. This includes food, fashion, and celebrity."
Added Ken Schanzer, president of NBC Sports, "Adding the broadcasts of these important Derby prep races allows us to introduce key storylines that continue to build the broadest possible audience for the Kentucky Derby and the sport of Thoroughbred racing."
NBC’s contract to telecast the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I), as well as ESPN/ABC’s contract for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), ends after 2010, and negotiations are under way for future telecast rights to the Triple Crown events.