Next spring, NBC will air four consecutive weekends of Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep races, The Jockey Club announced Tuesday.
The 2012 Road to the Kentucky Derby series will be broadcast on NBC, the NBC Sports Network (the soon-to-be new name of Versus) and CNBC. The series will include eight races: the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes and Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park on March 24; the Florida Derby and Gulfstream Oaks at Gulfstream Park on March 31; the Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby on April 7; and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 14.
"Turfway Park has served as the final tune-up for a number of Kentucky Derby hopefuls, and as we all know, last year's winner of the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes, Animal Kingdom, went on to win the Run for the Roses a few weeks later," said Bob Elliston, president and chief executive of Turfway Park. "Televising these races benefits not only the host tracks but the entire racing industry."
Most broadcasts will be one hour; the Wood and Santa Anita coverage, the only one on the main NBC channel, will be 90 minutes.
Last summer, NBC Sports Group aired seven weekends of racing from Saratoga and two weekends from Keene land, and the series proved popular. Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports, said NBC has committed to long-term deals for the Triple Crown races and for more Saratoga and Keeneland coverage.
"We have received a tremendous response to the national television coverage from Keeneland this fall, and we are pleased that the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes will be televised nationally," said Nick Nicholson, Keeneland president. "Keeneland is very supportive of The Jockey Club's strategic initiative to grow fan interest in our sport."
The news comes days after the industry wrapped up the Breeders' Cup Championships at Churchill Downs. Despite adding a 15th race, the two-day event saw significant drops in wagering, attendance and TV ratings from last year's championships, when superstar Zenyatta drew record viewers and bettors to the sport.
Boosting coverage of Thoroughbred racing was one of the goals that the industry announced in August, and The Jockey Club said it would commit $10 million over the next five years to the effort.
"The Jockey Club is proud to work with our television and racetrack partners to bring more of our sport's best racing to a national audience," said Ogden Mills Phipps, chairman of The Jockey Club. "Increasing the television presence of Thoroughbred racing is just the first step in a long term, multimedia strategy focused on fan retention and development."