VISA Triple Crown Coverage Begins with Weekend Stakes

With the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) only three weeks away, NBC Sports kicks off coverage of horseracing's 3-year-old picture on Saturday, with the 90-minute telecast of "NTRA Road to the Kentucky Derby." The show will air from 4:30-6:00 p.m. (est) and will feature live coverage of the, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) from Keeneland and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. II) from Oaklawn Park. Also slated for the show is a recap of the $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I), run earlier in the day at Aqueduct, and a comprehensive preview of the upcoming Run for the Roses.

Saturday's telecast will feature NBC's Triple Crown broadcast lineup: host Tom Hammond, analyst Mike Battaglia, commentator Charlsie Cantey and reporter Donna Barton Brothers at Keeneland; reporter Kenny Rice at Oaklawn; and analyst Bob Neumeier at Aqueduct.

In addition to covering the races, the show will present highlights of the 2004 Triple Crown prep season and preview the May 1 Run for the Roses.

"NTRA Road to the Kentucky Derby" culminates 2 1/2-hours of two-network live racing coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m. with a one-hour telecast of "CITGO Racing to the Kentucky Derby" on ESPN. The ESPN program will present live coverage of the Wood Memorial.

The 1 1/8-miles Blue Grass is shaping up as the toughest Derby Prep of the year. The morning line favorite is the Patrick Biancone-trained Lion Heart, who was second in the San Rafael after posting an undefeated juvenile campaign. Trainer Nick Zito has entered a pair of horses, Birdstone, winner of last year's Champagne Stakes (gr. I), and The Cliff's Edge, coming off a third-place finish in the Florida Derby (gr. I). Also running is the Richard Mandella-trained Action This Day, winner of the 2003 Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and last year's Eclipse Award winner as top juvenile; the Bob Baffert-trained Preachinatthebar, who won the San Rafael (gr. II); Limehouse, the Todd Pletcher trainee who won the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III); Mustanfar, who was second in that race; Breakaway; and That's an Outrage.

A field of 10 is expected in the 1 1/8 miles Arkansas Derby, headed by the undefeated (5-for-5) Smarty Jones, winner of the Rebel Stakes his last time out. As part of Oaklawn's Centennial celebration, the track will award a $5 million bonus to any horse who wins the Rebel, the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby, giving Smarty Jones a chance for a really big payoff. Expected to challenge Smarty Jones is Rebel Stakes runner-up Purge, Louisiana Derby (gr. II) runner-up Borrego, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Hasslefree, Pro Prado, Mr. Jester, Shadowland, Mambo Train, Harvard Avenue and Tricky Taboo.