NBC Sports Adds 80-mph Aerial Camera Over Churchill Downs Backstretch To Capture Kentucky Derby Speed

The Peacock looks to bring the viewer closer to horses and jockeys

At the 144th Kentucky Derby tomorrow, the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” gets a high-speed upgrade, thanks to the introduction of an aerial camera that can travel up to 80 mph over the full backstretch. NBC Sports Group, taking a page from its successful NFL broadcast playbook, is adding the aerial perspective to bring fans closer to the horses and jockeys at a pivotal moment during the iconic race.

“As TV sports have evolved, every production team at any network is always searching to bring the viewer at home closer to the action,” says Coordinating Producer Rob Hyland. “For example, I think SkyCam has changed the game of American football and the way it’s presented, and I’ve constantly been in search [of a way] to bring the viewers that watch our horse-racing coverage closer to the action to help them appreciate how fast the horses are going and the decisions being made by the jockeys.”

Because of the placement of the main play-by-play camera on the track, the horses can be as far as a half mile from the camera. And adding a broadcast camera closer to the backstretch wouldn’t be feasible, given the thousands of spectators who crowd the infield at Churchill Downs. So NBC Sports looked to the sky instead.

The two-point cable-cam system will run along the backstretch for 1,400 ft. approximately 18 ft. above the ground between the dirt and turf courses.

“Our director, Drew Esocoff, does an incredible job with the 50-plus cameras, cutting around the race, but we’re never really that close to the horses,” continues Hyland. “It’s a pretty incredible undertaking that this group has pulled off. I saw it for the first time in the control room, and it’s going to be spectacular. It almost looks as if you’re watching a videogame of horses on the backstretch, and you really appreciate the speed of the horses. … I’m looking forward to showcasing this throughout this weekend’s coverage.”

The aerial camera is just one of more than 50 cameras that Hyland, Esocoff, and company will have at their disposal during NBC Sports’ record five hours of Kentucky Derby coverage this Saturday. In addition, the complement will include a helmet camera on the outrider, a camera suspended 80 ft. up on the Churchill Downs videoboard structure, a robotic camera in the paddock saddling area, and a camera focused on race caller Larry Collmus.

NBC Sports will have 15 commentators contributing to its coverage and more than 300 production personnel onsite at Churchill Downs to deliver “The Run for the Roses” to viewers at home. On Saturday, the Peacock’s Kentucky Derby coverage kicks off at noon ET on NBCSN and 2:30 p.m. on NBC. In total, NBC Sports will deliver 14 hours of Kentucky Derby coverage Thursday through Saturday, including live coverage of 20 races across the three days.

“It is such a great opportunity to bring this event, this spectacle, this sporting event to America,” says Hyland. “It’s a celebration, but it’s also one of America’s oldest sporting events that has so much to it beyond just the sport. Every year, we look at what we’ve done, the roadmap from the previous year, [and ask ourselves] Can we do this better? Is this serving the viewer? Are we inviting as many people into the show as we can? Are we educating, informing, entertaining? Is there enough lifestyle, is there enough racing?

“It’s the constant tweaking of a plan that I’m pretty proud of,” he continues, “but, every year, I try to start with a new plan. I never work off last year’s format.”

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