ESPN Drops Live Kentucky Oaks Coverage

Churchill Downs sees potential for new audience at Bravo.

The ESPN network has dropped its live coverage of the May 1 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, but the race coverage will be shown on the Bravo network, which is owned by NBC. NBC will provide coverage of the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).

"ESPN still has a great commitment to horse racing," ESPN spokesman Mark Mandel told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "We're going to re-evaluate next year. We have an emphasis this year on Saturday's programming versus a week-day afternoon. So that played into it here."

Although it is pre-empting the Oaks card, ESPN is providing live pre-Derby coverage from noon-5 p.m. on Derby day, May 2.

The Courier-Journal reported Bravo had already planned a one-hour Oaks day special focusing on food, fashion, and the celebrity experience of Oaks day, as well as Churchill’s fund raiser on behalf of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

"We've had a long and wonderful partnership with ESPN for both days; that's going to continue on Kentucky Derby day, and that's a great thing,” Churchill spokesman John Asher told the CJ. "It's disappointing they're not going to be here to do the Oaks Day card. "But I understand there are a lot of things moving in today's economy, and for whatever reason we're not going to be able to do those races. We would hope that could be reviewed down the road, maybe as soon as next year."

Asher said Bravo’s Oaks coverage has the potential to reach new fans.

"While ESPN did cover a considerable chunk of Oaks Day, we're very excited that we'll be able to reach a new audience for the Kentucky Oaks on the Bravo telecast of activities surrounding the Kentucky Oaks and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. We think that presents wonderful opportunities.

"Bravo has a very strong demographic in the important 18 to 49 age groups, especially for female audiences. Again, our new theme for the Oaks is 'Ladies first.' Having that race as part of the telecast, along with everything else that is part of the day, is really going to be a wonderful thing for the Kentucky Oaks and help give the Oaks its own identity. Not just that race that's run the day before Derby, but a very special event that draws more than 100,000."