NBC Sports Group Shines Spotlight on California Chrome, Party Atmosphere at Preakness Stakes

Hopes are running high for California Chrome, the improbable victor of the 140th Kentucky Derby.  Born to a mare and stallion with no major wins between them, the unknown horse rose to become the Kentucky Derby favorite and eventual winner, and looks to continue his ascent this weekend at the 139th Preakness Stakes. 

“Obviously the focus will be on the Derby winner California Chrome,” says Coordinating Producer Rob Hyland. “We sent a crew out last week to California to reconnect with the ownership – Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who both went back to their respective jobs last week as if nothing had changed in their lives – so that’s going to be a really fun piece.”

With a win at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, MD, California Chrome would be in contention for the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978; a tailor-made storyline that would almost certainly draw additional viewers to NBC Sports’ coverage of the Belmont Stakes. However, NBC is ensuring that viewers know California Chrome isn’t the only horse slated to compete and his victory isn’t guaranteed.

“[We’ve gone] through how we’ll tell the stories of all of the horses in this year’s field, not just California Chrome, and make sure our audience understands this is a horse race still and it’s not a given that the Derby winner will win,” says Hyland. “We’ll make sure to inform and educate the viewers and hopefully entertain at the same time.”

NBC Sports Group will present eight hours of Preakness Stakes coverage, beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET today on NBCSN and 4:30 p.m. ET tomorrow on NBC.  In addition to Hyland, a veteran of the network’s horse racing coverage since 2001, the Preakness Stakes will be directed by Sunday Night Football and NBC Sports’ horse racing director, Drew Esocoff. NBCSN’s coverage will be produced by Billy Matthews and directed by Patrick McManus. Sam Flood, who has produced 11 Triple Crown races for the Peacock, serves as executive producer for both NBC and NBCSN.

For this year’s telecast, NBC Sports will use the same 4K replay system that it debuted on Sunday Night Football last season. The system, comprised of a FOR-A FT-ONE 4K camera on the roof of the Pimlico grandstand and an Evertz Dreamcatcher replay server in the truck, will capture an aerial shot of the entire field to be used in replays.

“It allows you to really zoom in and maintain high resolution on virtually every area of the track,” explains Hyland. “So, if a horse comes from no where that we didn’t have isolated or if there is a strange incident, we essentially have a great set of eyes anywhere in the track.”

NEP’s ND3 returns to Pimlico after covering the first jewel of the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs and detouring down to TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL for The Players Championship. The mobile unit will also cover The 146th Belmont Stakes in New York on June 7.

NBC Sports will deploy approximately 40 cameras to cover the Preakness, including a blimp, two super-mo cameras, and a Fletcher-supplied Inertia Unlimited X-Mo camera. Reporter Donna Brothers will ride with a RF camera attached to her helmet to capture the post parade as well as her post-race interview, and this year, the network added an additional RF handheld to capture the infield.

“Each of these three Triple Crown races [has its] own signature, and the party atmosphere at Pimlico in the Preakness Stakes — for the first time we’re going to have a dedicated camera to showcase that,” says Hyland. “I’m actually sending in a reporter – Carolyn Manno – who will file reports from there throughout the day on both NBCSN and NBC.”

In addition to Manno, the recently hired Josh Elliott will contribute a feature on California Chrome’s jockey Victor Espinoza, as well as Espinoza’s brother and fellow jockey Jose, who suffered a career-ending injury nine months ago.

NBC Sports Group coverage of the Preakness Stakes features Bob Costas and veteran NBC Sports commentator Tom Hammond; analysts Randy Moss and Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey; analysts/handicappers Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumeier; NBCSN host/NBC reporter Laffit Pincay, III; reporters Kenny Rice, Donna Brothers and Jay Privman, and race caller Larry Collmus.

Horse racing fans can access content from the Preakness at a “social center” housed on NBCSports.com/Preakness. Fans can access and sort social media content from Instagram, Twitter, and Vine through various streams including horse racing experts, horses (including the horses themselves, jockeys, and trainers), a photos-only section and Vine videos. Preakness All-Access aggregates what’s trending around the race and what’s hot in the social world. In addition, fans can plug in their first and last names and will be given their ‘Horse Name’ to be shared on Twitter.

The Preakness Stakes might not have the innate majesty or pageantry associated with the Kentucky Derby, but that suits Hyland and his team just fine.  “This is to me just as special of a race because it has a very different DNA,” he says. “The party atmosphere; the crab cakes; their own signature drink, the Black Eyed Susan; the concerts… It has its own signature, its own flavor, and it’s distinct and separate from both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.”

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