Retired jockey Gary Stevens has officially joined NBC Sports' broadcasting team, according to his manager, Kelly Weitsma. The Hall of Fame rider finalized a long-term deal with NBC earlier this month, and will co-host the network's horse racing coverage along with broadcasting veteran Tom Hammond. According to Weitsma, a deal with NBC has been in the works since the former jockey co-hosted programming of the fourth annual Sunshine Millions on Jan. 28. "We've been in negotiation since Gary's initial appearance," Weitsma said. "Obviously with the winter Olympics going on we had to put things on the back burner for a while, but now we're thrilled to be working with NBC. Everyone has welcomed Gary with open arms."Stevens fills a void left by longtime racing analyst Charlsie Cantey, who retired in 2005 after five years as an NBC co-host and 30 years as a racing commentator for various networks. "Charlsie is a good friend of mine, and I know she's going to be missed," Stevens said from his winter home in California. "She made up a very vibrant part of the NBC Sports team, a team that I'm glad to be a part of. Tom [Hammond] and Donna [Barton-Brothers] were great and made me feel very welcome when I participated in the Sunshine Millions broadcast, and I look forward to working with both of them."Stevens will join Hammond and Brothers, along with racing analysts Bob Neumeier and Mike Battaglia, for NBC's coverage of the 2006 road to the Triple Crown. Scheduled air-dates include the April 1 Florida Derby (gr. I), the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), the May 6 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and the May 20 Preakness Stakes (gr. I)."Gary is a legend in the world of racing, and we are thrilled to welcome him to our outstanding team of broadcasters," said David Neal, executive producer of NBC Sports and executive vice president of NBC Olympics.Stevens, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner, said he hopes to add another dimension to NBC's programming by drawing from his 26-year career as a jockey
"I really want to add something that the viewers haven't seen before, to give them a feel for what it's like to ride in a race and let them know what the jockeys are thinking," he said Wednesday. "Hopefully I'll be able to give that kind of analysis and provide the fans with hands-on type of experience. I'm really looking forward to the upcoming races."